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We'll take on the Akalis, asserts CLP leader Jakhar

Sunil Jakhar, Congress Legislature Party leader and three-time MLA from Abohar, has taken the charge to pump up the party for the coming municipal bodies polls across Punjab in June. He tells Hindustan Times about a morcha he plans to launch against the SAD-BJP government for its "political oppression to decimate the opposition". Read his free-wheeling chat with HT staff...

chandigarh Updated: May 30, 2012 14:39 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times

HT: It seems the Congress, after the assembly poll debacle, has not been able to pull itself up and prepare for the MC elections. What is the reason?

Jakhar: We were definitely demoralised initially, and it was a natural outcome as no one was expecting the Congress to lose. But the way people have applied for tickets for the MC polls shows that the party is still very strong. I think the party has to come to terms with the fact that people have delivered a verdict and whether we like it or not, we have to live with it.

Do you think there is a need for a younger leadership to take the party ahead?
The leadership's role is to carry everybody along. You will always have people with high aspirations and egos. I think the role of a true leader, whether young or old, is how to bring everyone on board. There should be enough room for everyone to nurture their ambitions.

So what should be the criteria for leadership?
Leadership cannot be decided on the criteria of age. If you look at it, UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had taken over from his father Mulayam Singh Yadav. On the other hand, we have Sukhbir Singh Badal, whom the Akalis gave credit for the victory but did not elevate him as chief minister. How come just about two months ago, Parkash Singh Badal was trying hard to sell the point that only he would be the chief minister and not his son? This was because Badal has realised that Sukhbir is not acceptable.

Do you think the Congress needs a new leadership in Punjab?
There is ample scope for people to join the party. I never really worked hard to get this post, but the party decided to appoint me as CLP leader.

No, we are talking about the PPCC leadership.
I think Capt Amarinder Singh has done rather well. The only problem is that the party on the whole could have done much better. It was on people's sentiment that he was made president of the party. I think the Congress fetched reasonably good votes under his leadership. In fact, our vote share has increased.

But after the poll debacle, a strong section in the Congress has been demanding a new PPCC chief and even a committee has been set up to decide the issue. Do you think all this is leading to a drift within the Congress and it is unable to play the role of an effective opposition?
It is too early to say as we have just got two months and the excesses of the ruling alliance have crossed all limits. I believe there is much scope for better coordination within the party. We have to move forward and take them head on.

But you accept that there is a drift in the party. Because the party looks rudderless?
The party is not rudderless. Of course, there were voices of dissent. Not only the Antony committee, some people met even AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi. The issue was put to rest when Rahul said that the major reason behind the defeat was ticket distribution.

So you think Capt Amarinder is still best suited to lead the party?
The high command has put him here and he is here to lead the party. He has performed well.

How much damage did the statement of AICC general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi cause when he said Amarinder would be the PPCC chief only till the MC polls?
He could have clarified the issue in a different way to send across a clear message. It still leaves a lot of ambiguity in the minds of people.

We have a formidable opposition in Punjab. But the Congress has not been able to work out a coherent strategy to take Akalis head on.
Whatever little difference of opinion we have will be sorted out and we will take them head on. Though numerically we are very strong, but the way they (Akalis) are trying to undermine the opposition is more frightening.

How are they trying to undermine the Congress?
Badal keeps talking about the federal structure of the Constitution and how the Centre is trying to meddle in the state government's affairs. In Punjab, they are trying to undermine the MLAs who have been elected by the people. There are standing instructions from Badal to the administration that no work or even telephone calls of Congress MLAs should be attended. They even try to curtail the days of the assembly session. So where do you talk about people's problems?

But instead of hitting the streets, the party confined itself to issuing statements.
This is precisely what was decided at a CLP meeting on Tuesday. We will launch a morcha instead of staging mere demonstrations. We are going to actively resist the undoing of democracy.

Given the prolonged absence of Capt Amarinder Singh and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal from CLP meetings, how will you reach a consensus on taking the party forward?
We will coordinate among ourselves. The CLP is part of the PCC. We are functioning under the umbrella of the Congress. We will coordinate to reassure people that we are here to protect their interests.

You are talking about a morcha, which means a sustained movement to achieve a goal.
Exactly. You have hit the nail on the head. We are not talking about one or two-hour demonstrations. We are talking about a sustained movement. This is going to be a morcha and we are aware that we may not get the desired results in a day or two.

A morcha against what?
A morcha against the undermining of the institution of democracy and constructive opposition, against rising cases of political vendetta, against the use of police as an instrument to oppress the opposition…

Will it not lead to politics of confrontation?
If it is confrontation, so be it. We cannot let them write off the entire opposition just because the word confrontation does not sound good. We are willing to cooperate as far as the progress of Punjab is concerned. But then they say, it takes two to tango. We cannot cooperate if the other guy is standing on your head with a stick.

Many in the party don't accept Amarinder as their leader. When the party is so vertically divided, what will be the fate of the morcha and who will lead it?
Capt Amarinder is the leader of the party and he will lead the morcha. People could have differences of opinion, but he is still accepted as the leader.

Do you think the construction of an Operation Bluestar memorial is not conducive for Punjab?
I think Badal should reassure Punjab that he would not let any incident of any kind disturb peace.

What is the stand of your party on this issue?
We feel that if we want peace in Punjab, we cannot let the sacrifices of 25,000 people who died fighting militancy go waste. When they try to place people who were responsible for militancy on a pedestal, they are insulting those sacrifices.

Two Akali ministers were convicted and the Congress did little to corner the government.
We reacted in whatever manner we could. I am more disturbed by the way Badal reacted as if it was no big deal. He rather tried to justify the government's decision of not having new ministers in their place, saying he was still awaiting the final outcome of the appeal. This shows the moral bankruptcy of the Akalis.

What about the issue of diversion of central funds by the state government?
We have taken up the matter with the union government. If nothing happens, we will move court for justice.

Akalis have been constantly claiming that the UPA government is discriminating against Punjab. Do you agree?
No, this is absolutely wrong. I would like to have a debate with Badal on TV on how his government has been diverting the money of central flagship schemes or not utilising the central funds meant for development projects. They have received Rs 4,300 crore in the last five years, but could utilise only Rs 2,200 crore.

You talk about vendetta, but Badal says where is the list of false cases.
I have given a list of the fake FIRs registered against Congress workers to Badal, but no action followed. I will submit the list again, but I know he will not act.

Akalis virtually promised everything, including unemployment allowance, laptops and doubling of benefits under welfare schemes. From where will all this money come from?
The situation is akin to that in the army. When the army retreats, it destroys everything so that the enemy cannot use it. The Akalis had virtually accepted defeat and that's why they made tall promises to make things difficult for the Congress. But now they don't have the money. They can fulfil these promises only after they get money from the Centre. That's why both father and son are seen running to union ministers for funds. Now they will have to face the music.

Why is Capt Amarinder not being seen much these days, especially when the MC polls are round the corner?
No, he is very much there. He has already announced that he will be available for campaigning in the MC elections.

The SAD-BJP government has decided to protest against the hike in petrol prices, but has done nothing to cut VAT on petrol to provide relief to people. Why is the Congress silent on this issue?
The Congress has already taken up the issue. We passed a resolution in our meeting on Tuesday, asking the Punjab government to reduce VAT. They can at least bring the rate of VAT down to the level of Haryana. The government is trying to cash in on people's misery.

What is the Congress agenda in Punjab?
The Congress is here to save the state's secular character, unlike the Akalis who played with fire by the kind of social engineering they did during the violent protests over the Rajoana issue. Our political agenda is to mobilise the masses on the issues we have constantly been raising.

What are those issues?
Corruption, irregularities in kerosene distribution, the wheat seed subsidy scam and non-payment of pensions, to name a few.

You have undermined Sukhbir Badal, but if the SAD wants him to become the chief minister replacing senior Badal, what will you say?
Badal sahib himself never wants Sukhbir to be the chief minister. He has even stated in the assembly that the real powers are with him and not Sukhbir (laughs).

Coming to nepotism, will there come a day when the Congress will not allot tickets to politicians' relatives who have made no contribution to the party?
Yes, this is a serious issue to be tackled. And this was one of the main reasons for the party's defeat in the assembly polls.

How do you rate Sukhbir as deputy chief minister?
There may be a common perception that he has brought the SAD-BJP back to power, but he is yet to prove himself. He is a dream merchant. He should come to the real issues and stop daydreaming.

First Published: May 30, 2012 14:19 IST