Even as the BJP across the rest of the country celebrates its victory under Narendra Modi’s leadership, the Punjab president of the BJP, Kamal Sharma, is in pensive mood, and still to come out of the shock of senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley losing from Amritsar.
Though the BJP won two seats compared to one of 2009, the overall SAD-BJP tally for Punjab, at six out of 13, was a reflection of how the ‘Modi wave’ was deflated here by anti-incumbency against the state regime. HT caught up with Sharma for some candid talk while he was on a personal visit to Jalandhar on Saturday. Excerpts:
Why did the ‘Modi wave’ not work in Punjab?
The wave was present, but local issues overshadowed everything. Anti-incumbency against our 7-year rule cost us. It’s a wake-up call. Even our ally SAD faced humiliation in its rural base.
Who was responsible for Arun Jaitley’s defeat in Amritsar?
All of us! From the BJP, as the state president, I take the responsibility. But it was not just the BJP that requested him to contest from Amritsar. CM (Parkash Singh Badal) and deputy CM (Sukhbir Badal) and the coalition government’s entire thinktank did.
Punjab BJP incharge Shanta Kumar has said he had alerted the Badals about the anti-incumbency.
Yes, I was with Shanta-ji when the talks were held. The entire BJP leadership, in [coalition] co-ordination committee meets, halerted the SAD about the heavy current against our government, especially on issues of drugs and illegal sand mining.
How responsible are you, personally, for Amritsar loss? Your opponents say you ganged up with Badals to bring in Jaitley to corner sitting BJP Navjot Sidhu.
We never ganged up against anybody! It was the core group of the state BJP with leaders from all groups that requested Jaitley to contest. We cannot think of using a national leader like Jaitley to ‘corner’ anybody.
Will you resign as state BJP chief?
That is between me and my high command.
CM Badal said the SAD managed to ensure lead from its segments in Amritsar; he tried to blame the BJP.
It was a collective defeat. Of the nine segments in Amritsar LS seat, SAD contests five but could not ensure lead from three of those. We lost all four. So, as the state BJP president, I take responsibility for the loss of all nine. Similarly, I expect the CM to take responsibility of all segments rather than just the Akali ones.
Like your MLA, Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu, do you attribute the loss to revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia?
We need to introspect.
But there’s a feeling that SAD has overpowered BJP here, and you have failed to protect your urban base while allowing the government to levy taxes.
When you run a coalition, you cannot blame each other. The BJP’s urban base has definitely shrunk because of certain decisions by this government. But it was only after the BJP’s objections that property tax was restructured. Reduction of VAT for businessmen was also done after we pressured the SAD. We will deliberate on the issues in the party as well as on in the colaition meets.
What can be done for damage control?
We paid heavily for the impression that the government is protecting mafia in several sectors. We must shed that tag before it’s too late. Resignation by SAD leader Sarwan Singh Phillaur from the cabinet over the drug issue is the first such corrective step, and the BJP welcomes it.
Will BJP press for resignation of Majithia, whose name has also cropped up in the drug racket?
It’s a fact that drug trade cannot flourish in Punjab without political protection. That is why I am of the view that all those whose names have been linked, irrespective of their parties, must come clean. This applies more to SAD-BJP leaders as the Congress has successfully maligned our image through false propaganda, even though the biggest haul of drugs has been made in our tenure.
Is reshuffling of BJP ministers on the cards, and will you ask the SAD to put a check on freebies?
Yes. Whatever is possible, we will do. We will be more assertive now on the issue of governance. Since there are limited funds with the state, we will press the state government to review its move to give free power to all farmers. The poor must get the freebies; not the well-off.