With the Congress on Sunday appointing its secretary and Dalhousie MLA Asha Kumari as Punjab affairs in-charge for the poll-bound state, she faces an uphill task of quelling infighting within the faction-ridden party.
Asha has succeeded senior party leader Kamal Nath as Punjab affairs incharge as he had to resign after an uproar over his alleged role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. HT had an interview with her. Here are the excerpts:
You replaced Kamal Nath. Are you not being seen as a lightweight leader?
Punjab is not new to me as I already know party leaders there but it came as a huge surprise to me. It is an honour. I will take stock of the situation in Punjab. I am going to Delhi to meet AICC president Sonia Gandhi. After meeting her, I will hold consultations with senior party leaders.
Kamal Nath resigned after row over his role in riots. Is the issue haunting the Congress ahead of polls?
Whenever elections are round the corner, Akalis begin to flog a dead horse by holding the Congress responsible for the 1984 riots. Our leaders Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were killed by terrorists. Later on, Punjab chief minister Beant Singh was also killed by terrorists. Akalis must understand that raking up past issues will not serve any purpose.
How do you assess the SAD-BJP government’s performance?
Development took backseat under the Akali government in Punjab. Anti-incumbency and corruption in the Akali regime will help the Congress stage a comeback to power.
Punjab Congress is grappling with infighting. How will you handle this?
I am aware of Punjab politics. I will soon meet all senior party leaders in Punjab to get their guidance and co-operation. My foremost priority is to bring back the party to power in the state. For that, all state party leaders ill have to get united.
AAP has emerged as a major force in the run-up to Punjab elections.
I am sceptical of the hype being created over the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab. I agree that the AAP made its presence felt in the last Lok Sabha elections. I will be able to comment on the AAP only after I take stock of the situation.
Does Congress has own plan or will it work on blueprint prepared by poll strategist Prashant Kishor?
The Congress will work on its own plan. If someone comes with suggestions, we will incorporate those in our game plan.
Daughter of former Madhya Pradesh chief secretary Madneshwar Saran Singh Deo, Asha Kumari was born on September 23,1955, in Delhi. After her education in Bhopal, she was married to RK Brijendra Singh, scion of the royal family of Chamba Was elected as president of student union at Bhopal University in 1975; also remained general secretary of the state Congress besides being member of the All India Congress Committee Elected MLA from the Banikhet constituency (Chamba) in 1985, 1993, 1998 and 2003; the segment has been renamed as Dalhousie after delimitation Was minister of state for primary education (independent charge) from 1995 to 1998; then was higher education minister from 2003 to 2005.
Land-grab case conviction
In February this year, a Chamba court convicted Asha Kumari in a land-grab case and jailed her for a year. She was granted bail the same day. She was accused of manipulating revenue records, fabricating wills and transferring 60 bighas of forest land in the name of her husband Brijender Singh. In March, the Himachal Pradesh high court suspended the sentence, maintaining that there was merit in her appeal. The case is going on in the court.