Chandigarh The agenda for the first cabinet meeting of the Congress government in Punjab was set by Manpreet Singh Badal, the state’s new finance minister. The estranged nephew of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, who was once the FM in the SAD-BJP regime, told HT in an interview at his residence in Chandigarh on Saturday that he did not enjoy confidence of Badal, but Amarinder has full faith in his integrity.
How is it different being a Congress finance minister?
It is a much better situation to be in. Captain Amarinder Singh is a better administrator than Parkash Singh Badal. He has clear-cut policies. As an Akali minister, I did not enjoy the confidence of the CM. But Amarinder has full faith in my integrity and I enjoy his trust and backing. Hum mafia ko kaat ke rakh denge; bada se bada gunda bhi sarkar ke samne nahi tik sakta (We will finish off the mafia. No goon is big enough for the government.)
But the Congress manifesto you drafted was the same as that of People’s Party of Punjab (which was merged into Congress before the assembly polls)?
To a large extent, the agenda was the same, such as ending VIP culture. But, in Congress, we undertook a comprehensive exercise to know people’s aspirations. The manifesto committee met everybody, from youth, traders, industry, to farmers. The final screening was done at the level of former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
But the manifesto was populist. Didn’t you part ways with your family and SAD on subsidies?
I left the post of finance minister in the Parkash Singh Badal government not owing to subsidies but the cabinet’s not agreeing to the Rs 35,000-crore bailout package being offered to the state by then Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. It had some conditions and those were fair. But the Akali Dal created propaganda that I was opposed to subsidies. They repeated it so many times that it became part of public memory.
Will you credit your party’s victory to populism?
You need to give incentives to industry, farmers and traders to kickstart the economy. Even smartphones to youth is not a populist promise. They would serve as an educational tool for them and help them explore opportunities on internet.
You never took a government car. Will other ministers follow? Your father has one from the government.
I can afford to have my own car, so I never took one from the government. But I cannot ask other ministers to do so. As for my father’s car, it was given to him by his brother (former CM Badal).
How much can the state save by ending VIP culture and removing red beacons on cars?
It is all about the symbolism. It is not that Mahatma Gandhi could not afford kurtas. His not wearing them was merely symbolic. Why should some people carry red beacons atop their cars? It is used as status symbol; and that has to end.