With the poaching games in full swing ahead of the high-stakes Punjab assembly elections, Manpreet Singh Badal, president of the People’s Party of Punjab has, for once, become a new political suitor wooed both by the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party. For him, time has come to take that critical call – whom to go with – to resurrect his fledgling political career and that of his party pushed to the margins of state politics.
In an interview to assistant editor Sukhdeep Kaur at Chandigarh on Tuesday, Manpreet admitted that he was keen to join AAP before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and is now in talks with the Congress. But, the astute politician that he is, Manpreet is hedging his bets. Reports suggest that he is flirting with AAP, too, clearly aiming to derive the best political bargain.
Q: There is never-ending speculation on your joining the AAP or the Congress. Has the PPP lost the plot in Punjab politics?
Manpreet: The agenda we set out remains sacrosanct. If somebody is willing to accept our agenda, we can together work towards achieving it. We are in talks with the Congress but we do not want to piggyback on any party for winning seats in the assembly polls. It would be based on a common ideology. We have contested the Lok Sabha, zila parishad and panchayat elections together with the Congress and the results have been encouraging for both parties.
Q. In the 2012 elections, it was the PPP which was in the reckoning as the third force. Now it is the Aam Aadmi Party. Has political exigency forced you to scout for allies?
A. I gave my best shot to putting forward a third alternative in Punjab politics. We thought the message was more powerful than money. Somehow, I was not accepted by the people. Also, the PPP did not have the kind of money or management talent that AAP has. So, we were not short of ideology but money and poll managers. We were also open to having an alliance with AAP during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls but they said their constitution did not allow it. For the state polls, we are looking at aligning with the Congress. All my life, I have been told that I have to be pragmatic. I was called an idealist, emotional, ungrateful and overambitious. There was pragmatism in continuing as the CM’s nephew and Punjab finance minister. But I choose to remain an idealist. On allies, I should be honest. Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Q. Now you are warming up to Amarinder, who during the 2012 state polls had dismissed you as a summer storm.
A. That was just political bravado. We were political opponents for more than 20 years. But even as an opponent, he is honourable and honest. Even his opponents admit he is charismatic.
Q. But what is the meeting ground for you two other than poll defeats and AAP?
A. We are willing to come together on the common agenda such as ending VIP culture, freeing Punjab of debt and corruption, and ending political interference in policing. If the Congress can ensure 10% growth in Punjab’s GSDP (gross state domestic product) for five years, we will set no preconditions.
Q. Will the PPP merge into the Congress or have a pre-poll pact?
A. It is a hypothetical question. We are yet to reach that stage.
Q. Amarinder has announced that the 2017 polls would be his last state elections. Many in the Congress feel a merger will pave the way for you, since you also carry the legacy of the Badal surname.
A. The Badal surname has become the biggest hindrance. People of Punjab have become allergic to it. If my sole purpose in life was to rise in politics, I would not have left the Shiromani Akali Dal. But fame without honour is meaningless. Personally, founding the PPP and being its president has been the most fulfilling part of my life. I was finally able to do what I was born to do.
Q. There have been reports that you met Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Monday to seal the deal.
A. I have not met Rahul. We have common friends as we both studied at the Doon School. I think we are allowed to meet socially.
Q. There is also speculation that you and Rahul will together announce a merger on January 15 in New Delhi at a luncheon to be hosted by Amarinder.
A. I am not aware of any such programme. Why would we not do so at the Maghi mela but a day later, if the reports are true?