Congress incumbent Pawan Kumar Bansal, BJP’s Kirron Kher and AAP’s Gul Panag squared off for a debate on Chandigarh’s problems and their promised solutions, at ‘Candidatetalk@ht’, held at The Lalit hotel on Friday. Here are their primary points, counter-points, and the occasional barb.
Four-time LS MP Bansal emphasised Chandigarh’s modern ethos, and conceded that a lot needed to be done. “I think there were certain things which we missed out while planning… Cheap housing in the initial years was very minimal.”
Kher recalled that her family house built in 1962. “No work has been done and slums are increasing.” Repeatedly referring to BJP’s PM-candidate Narendra Modi’s “vision”, she added that the city needed underbridges and the metro. “Also, I would love to promote the city as a tourist destination.” Safety of women was another issue she flagged.
Panag listed the north-south divide as her “biggest worry”, and talked of improving health facilities and access to services.
WHY ELECT YOU, AGAIN?
Bansal said: “If development is the agenda, we made tremendous development all these years… I was the person who talked of metro rail for Chandigarh... On specific suggestions of a Film City and other such projects; all those will ultimately come one day. But the important thing is presently to provide basic infrastructure. I have not promised the moon, but I represent the people sincerely and remain the ‘man next door’.” He added, “So far, Chandigarh has no international flights… A few days before the election code came into force, the defence ministry granted permissions, and now we will have international flights.”
WHY VOTE FOR KHER?
“Before I say something, I have a question for Mr Bansal,” said Kher, “Why is everything done just before the elections?” Bansal retorted, “Maybe Mrs Kher was not on the scene when the NDA was in power. There was sort of illusion of ‘India Shining’… in that haste many decision were taken on the last day.” Kher hit back,
“India was shining! You built UPA-1 on the basis on India Shining.”
Moving on, Kher made her case. “Because the budget of Chandigarh is decided by the union home ministry, unless the sitting MP is from the ruling party not much funds come to the city… Also Chandigarh should get more powers.”
WHY PICK GUL?
“I am here to challenge the status quo, which everyone is fed up with,” started Gul. “This city needs a representative of its people and its voters, and not a representative of the prime minister”
Kher said being a “representative of the PM” was very important: “We need a PM who is interactive, asks questions and allows questions to be asked. Unfortunately, with deep respect towards Dr Manmohan Singh, he never did that. [As for] AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal, if the country is ever unfortunate to get him [as PM], what has happened in Delhi will happen in Chandigarh or in other places. Representative of a strong, assertive and good administrative man will always benefit the city.”
Gul retorted, “I disagree fundamentally with the theory that the city needs an MP who is representative of the PM. I see this as a direct conflict between participatory democracy and representative democracy.”
SLUMS: A VOTEBANK?
Bansal said, “I have never encouraged slums, but have taken up the question of rehabilitation. There is a difference.” As Bansal listed out the figures — “25,000 slum rehab houses planned, 8,000 handed over, rest being built” — Gul attacked him saying that the rehab flats did not have facilities. Bansal replied, “Leaders have the luxury of making any statement if they are inexperienced.”
ON KEJRIWAL, MODI
During the discussion, Kher said, “Kejriwal has no respect for Republic Day, and sat on protest that day… He comes unshaven to the place… But he does all that drama of being an aam aadmi (common man), which puts me off… Otherwise, I and (husband) Anupam had supported the Anna Hazare movement.”
When Kher was asked about relying on the ‘Modi wave’, she said, “He is a great leader and we are blessed to have him. Once he comes in, you will see the golden era of this country… And I am not new to politics. For 15 years, I have not missed a single Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha debate… I record and watch the debates.”
About her being based in Mumbai, and whether she would stay in the city even if she lost, Kher said, “As far as my [film] work is concerned, I work very less. I do ‘India’s got talent’ show that is just 19 days a year...” To the same question, Panag said, “I am not in Bombay (Mumbai), because I like Bombay. If there is a film industry like that in Chandigarh, I would be working here… Now I am based in Chandigarh.”
On Savita Bhatti backtracking on AAP candidature and her being a replacement, Panag said she was to campaign for the party’s Ludhiana candidate HS Phoolka anyway, “and I sought the ticket after Savita-ji backed out for her own reasons”. Kher parried the question on why she was picked ahead of local leaders.
RAILGATE AND BANSAL
Kher and Panag did not mention the railway bribery scam — in which Bansal’s nephew was arrested last year, and he had to resign as rail minister — until a question was put by HT. Bansal responded, “Mahesh Kumar, GM, Western Railways, was to be promoted and wanted to be appointed as Member (Electrical) on the Railway Board… Though the alleged mediators kept on negotiating the promotion till May 3, 2013, I had sent the file for appointing him to his designated post (member, staff) two weeks before that.”
Asked why he resigned, he said, “Because the media was hounding me...” He agreed that it hurt his image, but he insisted that he would still trust his family and there was no lesson as such to be learnt.
CORRUPTION AS ISSUE
Panag then said, “I am not going to talk of Bansal saab here. Say, there is a ministry, there is a minister, there are allegations and somebody has been caught accepting huge amount of money. The minister in charge does not know what is happening. That to me is a very worrying sign, as I would take it as a sign of incompetence.”
Kher said, “This railg ate has been there in media space… It is a national issue… I won’t like to personalise the campaign. There are many administrative issues which I can attack Mr Bansal on.”
Aam Aadmi Party candidate
NEED TO BRIDGE THE GROWTH DIVIDE WITHIN CHANDIGARH
What worries me the most is that there are two Chandigarhs — one north of Madhya Marg, not lacking in opportunity, roads, sanitation, access to greenery in parks, while the other comprises the southern sectors, villages and the [slum] colonies… Income inequality is a function of any normal society, but inequality in equitable access to opportunity is the bane of Chandigarh today…. Non-availability of primary health care is a big issue, while big hospitals are overburdened… We have failed to bring government schools at par with private schools, though that used to be the case when I was studying in a government school here… The city needs a proper public transport system, and vacancies in the CTU (Chandigarh Transport Undertaking) need to be filled… A functional public transport at odd hours can also lead to a safer environment for women… Police reforms are a must to ensure that. Employment in the IT sector should be generated… Residents’ involvement should be there, and colonies and villages particularly have to be developed on modern lines… We need to rationalise and harmonise the growth of Chandigarh.
PAWAN KUMAR BANSAL
Sitting MP and Congress candidate
HOUSING FOR ALL IS ESSENTIAL FOR PROGRESS OF ANY CITY
As [the then PM] Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said, Chandigarh represents the modern resurgent India. It was built as we had lost Lahore to Pakistan, and later [the then Punjab CM] Partap Singh Kairon nurtured the city… During the course of journey, we missed certain things in the planning. The population has growm much beyond what it was planned for.
As such, the most important issued is that we do not have adequate housing in the city, and people who came to build city were scattered too… We want to have a slum-free, modern and vibrant city, which can be termed world-class. ... As for slums, 25,000 slum rehabilitation houses have been planned, 8,000 already handed over at Dhanas, and the rest were being built. Leaders have the luxury of making any statement if they are inexperienced... But if development is the agenda, a lot of work has been done, and I concede that a lot has to be done. Development is an ongoing process.
NEED TO UPGRADE BASIC INFRASTRUCTURE
Infrastructure needs to be upgraded along with growth. Today, we can see slums all over the town, even Prime Minister [Manmohan Singh] visited Chandigarh last year but nothing has been done, and slums are increasing day by day. I believe in what [BJP PM-candidate Narendra] Modi-ji said, that a person should live a life of dignity.
On medical facilities, we have only two big hospitals, the PGIMER and Sector-16 government hospital. We need to generate jobs… I don’t know why projects like a Media City and Film City are yet to materialise even when Punjabi film industry has grown so much. Also, IT needs to be developed more. Better infrastructure is needed in villages and slum colonies; traffic and parking problem need to addressed, and Mr Bansal, when he was railway minister, should have got the metro (rail) here rather than just an extra Shatbadi [Express train]. Safety of women is a big problem… If the administration is strict, all these problems can be sorted out.
(For video of the entire event Click here http://read.ht/dOI)