Claiming that she had not aspired to contest in the assembly polls, Congress candidate for Patiala Urban bypoll Preneet Kaur said that it was All India Congress Committee (AICC) president Sonia Gandhi’s decision that she should fight for the assembly constituency despite having been a union minister.
HT spoke to Kaur about key issues like the rumoured compromise between the Badals and her husband Captain Amarinder Singh, her candidature in spite of losing in the Lok Sabha polls. Excerpts from the interview:
Why are you are taking a step backward by contesting for the post of MLA after having been a union minister?
It is unfair to say that. I am fighting for the party, not for myself. It is time for me to give back to my party which thrice made me a member of Parliament (MP) and later a union minister. All India Congress Committee president Sonia Gandhi wants me to contest as she wants to maintain the party’s winning streak in bypolls after the Uttarakhand byelections and break the SAD’s bypoll success streak in the state. So, Soniaji delegated the responsibility to Maharaja saab (her husband Captain Amarinder Singh) and me. A win here will rejuvenate the party and the Congress will gear up for the 2017 assembly polls.
Is it fair that after being rejected by voters in the recent Lok Sabha polls you are now contesting for the assembly? The Akali Dal is hitting you hard on this issue.
The Lok Sabha elections were entirely different. They were fought on national issues. People rejected the Congress-led-UPA and I accept the public’s verdict. This bypoll is a referendum on the SAD-BJP’s eight years of governance in Punjab, particularly in Patiala. Here, people will decide on the basis of local issues. And the public is disillusioned with the SAD-BJP regime. If losing in an election translates to not contesting in the next, then why is the Akali Dal contesting after having finished third in the Lok Sabha polls from Patiala?
How come a new entrant AAP trounced you in the Lok Sabha polls?
That is the beauty of democracy—people deliver the judgment. There was widespread anger against both SAD-BJP and the Congress-led-UPA government; and the AAP capitalised on it. But, the situation is totally different in assembly elections. Here, the people will punish the ruling Akali Dal by voting for the Congress. I admit that there was some disconnect in the Lok Sabha polls, but our campaign is now more intensive and I am well-connected with the people.
The Akali Dal and the AAP tagged you as a ‘non-performer’; you failed to bring any major project to the city. Why was this?
It is the SAD-BJP which is a non-performer, not me! They have turned the city into a dump yard. Patiala, which was a beautiful city during the Congress regime (2002-07), has the worst-ever civic infrastructure. A union minister can bring grants, but it is the state government which has to execute the works. As a UPA member, I have brought several grants, but the Akali Dal diverted it to Bathinda. I brought Rs 150 crore for the Rajindra Hospital. I do not know where they spent it. The CM must explain to the public as to why the SAD-BJP alliance has neglected Patiala?
The Akalis are blaming the Congress for the city’s poor civic conditions.
It is not an MP’s job to clean the sewerage. It is the responsibility of the civic body and the local administration, which have badly failed. SAD candidate Bhagwan Dass Juneja is the father of Akali councilor Harpal Juneja. When the son has failed to perform, what can you expect from the father? Voters are intelligent. They are aware of the fact that it was the SAD-BJP alliance which has ruined the city.
The AAP is projecting that the Badals and the Captain’s family have a secret understanding which is why the Captain is not going to Talwandi Sabo while senior Akali leaders are not coming to Patiala. Is this true?
It is a totally baseless allegation. The Akalis have nothing to speak of in Patiala because of the indifference they have meted out to the people. So, they are hiding their faces and not coming to Patiala. Meanwhile, Captain saab is not going to Talwandi Sabo as he has to spend time here. He announced this even before the bypoll was announced. PPCC president Partap Singh Bajwa is looking after Talwandi Sabo and we will win both seats.
The Akalis are asking you to explain what you would do if you were elected as MLA, because you will be in the opposition.
I will stand by my people and urge the government to undertake development projects here. I will ensure that Patiala gets equal share as Bathinda. And funds allotted for Patiala will not be diverted. Congress’ return to power in the state in 2017 is certain. Then I will bring funds and development.
How do you rate your opponents?
SAD candidate Juneja’s son Akali councilor Harpal Juneja is in the ruling civic body, the culprit of the city’ poor amenities. The AAP candidate (Harjit Singh Adaltiwala) was also in SAD till April, so he is also equally at fault. The public knows the reality.