The day after he was removed from the post of Punjab Congress president, Capt Amarinder Singh told HT in an interview on Wednesday that he still enjoys the confidence of party president Sonia Gandhi and foresees a bigger role for himself in the party. Excerpts
HT: Is it a setback for you to be removed from the PPCC chief's post?
Amarinder: No, not at all. Rather, I am thankful to party president Sonia Gandhi who gave me a long period of 15 years to lead the party in Punjab. Tell me how many Congress leaders have had such a long tenure in any state. It's not an unceremonious removal. My popularity, as well as that of the Congress, has increased every year during this period.
Do you still enjoy the confidence of Sonia Gandhi?
I can say that Soniaji still has full confidence in me. And she has hinted at a bigger role for me in the party. She knows that I am a dedicated soldier of the party.
Did you know that you were going to be removed? Did the controversy over showcause notices to party MLAs act as the trigger?
Yes, I knew it (removal) was coming. Soniaji called me on Tuesday and briefed me. Even before the Moga bypoll, she had informed me about a leadership change in Punjab. There was a need for a replacement to steer the party for the 2014 elections. And this change has nothing to do with the notices to Randeep Nabha, Brahm Mohindra and others.
Did Sonia consult you on leadership change?
No. It's the sole prerogative of the Congress president. But had I been consulted, I could have named someone else or made some suggestions on my replacement, which could have been better for the state.
Do you have reservations about Partap Singh Bajwa's appointment? Who was your candidate?
I haven't said so. I will meet the party president soon and tell her all about it. The media is not the platform to discuss such things. I wish all the best to Bajwa.
What are Bajwa's prospects as the PPCC president?
It's just the beginning. He is yet to prove himself.
Your detractors have accused you of ruining the party.
I won't name anyone, but most of my detractors invited me for campaigning as they were aware of my stature and how Congress workers and the public love me.
But your inaccessibility and coterie culture were issues for Congress leaders.
I was always accessible. If accessibility was an issue, no one would have backed me in 2009, when I was reappointed PPCC president. And there was no coterie. I simply assigned duties to my trustworthy men, be it SK Sinha, BIS Chahal or Rana Gurmeet Sodhi.
You claim that your popularity has increased over the years. Then how did the Akalis manage to make history by retaining power?
We lost the 2012 elections due to wrong ticket distribution and the presence of Congress rebels, not because of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). Sukhbir Badal supplied money to rebels to stay in the fray, hitting us hard.
Has Sukhbir scored over you in various elections?
Sukhbir is dangerous for democracy as he is suppressing the voice of the public by using money and muscle power. Is micromanagement all about purchasing votes? The Election Commission should act fast; otherwise, the consequences would be disastrous for the state.
How do you see Sukhbir's future?
Sukhbir is shortsighted, overambitious. One day he will take a dangerous step. He is a good businessmen but not a good administrator or politician. He might get a jolt from within the party and his own family
What about Manpreet Badal?
Sometimes, I feel that he is the B team of Badals. He is not trustworthy. I feel the senior Badal has planted him to grab anti-government votes. In Moga, he was sure of losing, but still fielded his candidate, who got just 7,000 votes. Had it been a direct contest, the result would have been different. I advice him to be mature and faithful. In the present circumstances, he has no future. The Congress is a national party, and if he wants a coalition, he should go along with the leadership.