There has been a lot of speculation regarding former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh after the Congress lost power in the state and after Rajinder Kaur Bhattal was made the Leader of Opposition instead of him.
Reports have been circulating that he may form his own regional party or that he may give up politics altogether. Amarinder Singh who recently returned after a medical check-up in UK will be leaving for Punjab shortly. He spoke to Pankaj Vohra in New Delhi on a number of wide ranging issues.
Q. There has been speculation that you may form your own party given that the Congress has not made you the CLP leader?
This is obviously motivated speculation by my Congress 'friends' in Delhi and Punjab. My greatest regret has always been leaving Rajiv in 1984. My family's history, Sikh antecedents and my personal belief that police action could not solve a political problem, left me no option but to resign from the Congress on the police/military action in Sri Darbar Sahib.
As to this speculation, I told the Congress president before I left for London that, for what I am worth, my services are available to the party for whatever she may have in mind for me. She also knows that I am with her now and always. Those who know me, know that I'm not one of those who indulges in dubious politics or double speaks.
Q. There are allegations that Bhattal and you do not get along, so you did not accompany her to Damdama Sahib on Baisakhi?
Firstly, Rajinder Bhattal and I, contrary to interested belief, get on well together. My entire family, including my mother, spent days in her constituency campaigning for her leading to her success. Not going to Damdama Sahib was a misunderstanding. Ambika Soni had arranged lunch for all three of us on the April 14 to meet to discuss how best we can move forward in Punjab to counter the new governments policies and assault on Congress workers.
Baisakhi is usually on April 13. While we waited for her here, she thought we were to meet on April 15, the day after Baisakhi, the change in date of the occasion created the confusion. Congress got a good number of seats in the Malwa belt. It will have to do a lot to consolidate its position during the parliamentary polls in 2009.
The Malwa belt has always been the Akali support base, from 1950 till the 2002 elections. We had to work very hard during our five years, to turn the vote base, and the two factors that made a major difference was the revivalof cotton production and the termination of the water act.
Both these affect southern Punjab only, which is the Malwa belt, and comprises 13 of Punjab's 20 districts. Cotton is grown in 4 of these districts. Had the Water Act not come about, 1.6 million hectres of land of these 13 districts would have gone without water and 9 lac families would have faced economic disaster.
We will have to work very hard to retain this base and work must start now as elections could well be held before 2009. The Malwa has always been my family's stronghold. The former Patiala state covered nine of these districts in part or full.
Q. Do you think Badals are practicing politics of vendetta?
Does anyone still have any doubt? My former ministers and I are being targeted but what is even worse is that there is no police station in Punjab where cases have not been registered against Congress workers and voters. The voters fault? Not voting for the Akalis.
The way the government is moving, many more cases are likely to be registered in the future and arrests made of former ministers and other senior Congressmen in corporations and other jobs. The object is to cover the corrupt practices which are being faced by the Chief Minister and his son in court today, by painting Congressmen with the same brush. These cases will eventually be thrown out by the courts, but their immediate objective of sensationalism and victimization to satisfy their ego would be met.
Do you fear that more cases will be registered against you ?
So I have been told. The object is to continue registering cases to try to damage my reputation in the public and to harass. They are free to do so. Fortunately we have a responsive judiciary, besides, the people of Punjab know me for what I am, especially, those who have worked with me or my government, or those who have been close observers of our functioning.
Even though some corruption may have been indulged in by some individuals, mainly at the lower level, it was non-existant in comparison to the previous Akali government. I very much believe that the Congress government, I had the privilege of leading, was one of the most effective and clean ever in the state.
Q. Parkash Singh Badal could be going for a medical check up in July? Do you feel that Sukhbir will take over?
This was a forgone conclusion. We were aware of it before the elections were held. No body wishes one ill, as far as ones health is concerned, not even if one is a major opponent or antagonist of that person, and I wish Mr Badal well, I hope he recovers from his illness. As to the government, it will be a tragedy if an impulsive young man should take over the reigns of the state at this time in our history. Already his day to day interference in functioning is leading to confusion, as nobody really knows who is running the government.
Today Punjab needs development, and for that we need continuity and stability, not reversing the previous governments policies just because they had framed them. This does not auger well for the state. Already the pace of development has slackened and land prices have fallen as much as 40%. Specific to your question, yes, Sukhbir Badal is likely to take over before his father goes for his check-up in July.
Q. What kind of opposition can Congress give when there is a corruption case against Bhattal?
Mrs Bhattal's appeal is pending before the Supreme Court and I am very confident that she will be aquitted. Mrs Bhattal is a fighter and even though it is Mr Badal's Vigilance department which is prosecuting the case, I quite expect her to fight the government, both within and outside the house. I will be there to assist her in the house and politically. Legally she has the best defence possible and I do not expect her to follow a soft policy to appease Badal. On the contrary, I expect her to follow an aggressive one.
Q. How do you react to speculation about your coming to the Centre?
I have not heard anything in this regard. As I have said earlier, I shall do whatever the Congress president and party wish of me.