‘Capt Amarinder is not the Congress... he lies every day’: Navjot Singh Sidhu

Jun 21, 2021 08:46 AM IST

Navjot Singh Sidhu talks to Hindustan Times on his expectations and his growing rift with chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh

As former opener for Team India, an astute sense of timing comes naturally to cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Sidhu who is at the centre of a raging rebellion in the ruling Punjab Congress arising chiefly out of his running duel with chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh for last two years since his exit from the cabinet. Even as the high command looks to pacify the feuding leaders and “suitably accommodate” Sidhu, as recommended by a party panel ten days ago, the Amritsar MLA’s patience may be wearing thin. In an exclusive hour-long interview with Executive Editor Ramesh Vinayak and Associate Editor Navneet Sharma at his Patiala residence on Sunday. Sidhu, 59, made a blistering attack on Amarinder and laid out his expectations but played an artful dodger on his next course of action. His tone and timing came as the clearest indicator yet of tough task the high command faces in balancing Sidhu’s ambition and Captain’s authority. Edited excerpts:

Navjot Singh Sidhu says Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh has to take the responsibility of the Congress government’s unkept promises. (Keshav Singh/HT)
Navjot Singh Sidhu says Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh has to take the responsibility of the Congress government’s unkept promises. (Keshav Singh/HT)

What does Navjot Sidhu want?

The constancy of purpose of my political career was to observe a system and change it. A system run by two powerful families who are controlling Punjab, belittling the legislature, overriding the interests of the state and purely for their vested, selfish interests and businesses as a collusion. They have controlled everything. They have fended for each other, defended each other. My fight has been against that system. I joined the (Congress) party after Prashant Kishor met me 60 times. I told them I have a pro-Punjab agenda. I campaigned in 56 assembly seats and party won in 54 of them, and 23 out of 24 were in Majha. This is the agenda I followed from the very first cabinet meeting where I gave a proposal to the chief minister to change the liquor policy for more revenue and give jobs with that money. You are taking loans to return loans and the state exchequer is being looted. The system said ‘no’. I took the mining policy to the system, saying that this is state’s treasure. Telangana earns 2,500 crore from one river annually. Punjab has three rivers. The last Akali-BJP government deposited only 40 crore from sand auctions in 10 years. Where is this money going? I told them ‘you fix the rate for sand and sell it at government rates. The system said, ‘no’.

Why couldn’t your own government do all this?

That’s the explanation I am always demanding. But they never said anything. I told them there is nothing called sand mafia. It is the transport mafia because sand cannot be transported without trucks. I said ‘impound them’. The system said ‘no’. No reasons are given. I went to the system and gave them a vision of my department to make everything such as birth certificate and death certificate online. Who brought drinking water to towns? Look at advertisement policy in Ludhiana that helped increase revenue. They are two sides of the same coin. I raised the issue of illegal encroachments on thousands of acres of land. The system said ‘no’. We formed the government on drugs issue. I said that people are not going to spare us. Let this be a deterrent for future generations. There is special task force report. As minister, I was speaking and Jagdish Bhola was giving statements against (Bikram Singh) Majithia. The court said there was enough prima facie evidence to proceed against him. I said take action, but the system said it has not read the report. I am telling you only one-hundredth of what happened. On sacrilege issue on which Akalis were running scared, the assembly session was called to fool people. A commission and an SIT were set up. If someone is killed, who sets up SIT? Inspector registers case, investigates, takes action, and the matter goes to court. There was evidence available. The system said ‘we will do in the last six months and make it an election issue’. They made me renewable energy and power minister, but I said ‘no’ and rejected the system that ignored my proposals for the welfare of the people of Punjab. I went home, introspected and meditated. They mislead people. They do not want to tell what they have done on loan waiver. Why no white paper on power purchase agreements? What about cheap power? They have again remembered Sidhu before the (assembly) polls. I was invited to CM’s house and told ‘take this’ (ministry). What had changed? I have never sought any post.

But you were part of the system, first as minister and are now as an MLA.

Who allows you to work in the system? What’s the value of a legislator? The system is ruined. It has mortgaged Punjab. You don’t want the officers to be accountable to them (MLAs and ministers). People did not elect officers. They elected ministers and MLAs. Power of the people must return to the people. I have no personal fight with anyone. There is no personal agenda.

But, why didn’t you fight the system while being part of it?

How? I have told you the system said ‘no’. If you are close to these two families and do what they want, then everything gets done.

Which two families you are talking about?

You are smart. You know this. Everyone knows this.

You have access to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former president Rahul Gandhi and must have raised these issues with them. What did they do about all this?

I cannot answer that question. I can only answer what is in my hands. I discussed these things with them. This is all I have discussed with the three-member committee. I have apprised everyone in the party, not for myself but for the people. Now they have given jobs to the sons of two Congress MLAs.

What is wrong with that?

There are so many things wrong with this. Is it on merit? What is the ground for giving this job? Sympathy? Who do you want to sympathise with - the man standing last in the queue, poorest of the poor or the privileged after two generations? This is against the spirit of the Constitution. You are tarnishing the party. The day my son was appointed assistant advocate general, he resigned. The day my wife was appointed chairperson with cabinet rank, she left it. That’s why I speak up with clear conscience and courage.

What role do you want?

I do not want any role. I want this agenda implemented. I want benefit of people. I want sacrilege issue solved. I want cheap power. I want solutions.

How do you fix in six months what, according to you, couldn’t be done in last four-and-a-half years of your party’s rule in Punjab?

If ifs and ands were pots and pans, there would have been no takers. There are no ifs and buts. If you give me the power to change people’s lives, I will do it. Why do you think people made me win five elections?

So, you want power?

I have asked for nothing. The power is already with me but there is a bigger power which overrules and says ‘sit down’. Either you are with us, or no. At the time of elections, they want Sidhu. They changed my portfolio, and I left. So why do they remember me again ? Why are they giving me ministry? What has happened now? I am not a party to their wrongdoings.

Your party colleagues say you are overambitious and want the top job?

If 200 people say something about you, does it become true. These are just diversionary tactics to mislead. I have no personal agenda with anyone. People will decide who I am. They give the power. Have I asked for something? Let anyone prove that I have asked for any position from anyone.

The chief minister says you joined the Congress only five years ago, while there are many long-time party leaders.

A man loses three elections, loses his security deposit, polls 736 votes, forms his party and then goes running to madam Gandhi and becomes president in six months. Us nu surkhab de parr lagge si. Was he a taksali ( traditional Congressman) ?

You are referring to Capt Amarinder Singh?

You tell me who lost his security deposits. Who lost from Talwandi Sabo? Who lost to (Prem Singh) Chandumajra. Three elections. I was repeatedly requested to join (Congress). Prashant Kishor had come to me 60 times. I am still standing on my agenda.

Then what is the crisis in the Congress?

Crisis is simple. Nobody is prepared to do this (fulfil the agenda). Everybody is prepared to loot. These two people have looted the state. They have made the state debt-ridden, finished it. They have gone against their promises. I am raising people’s voice.

Democracy is all about numbers. Capt Amarinder Singh has a majority of MLAs on his side.

How do you know? Capt Amarinder Singh is not the Congress. The Congress is the high command. Who is he to say that doors are closed for me? I am talking about the beadbi (sacrilege) issue, and he is saying fight election with me. What is he doing?

But the high command made him the CM?

We made him the chief minister. We also campaigned. I was campaigning for whom? Under whose name? Had he fulfilled the promises, we would have been singing his praises. Why this resentment? It is not just me; all are upset.

If everyone is upset, why is the high command not changing the leadership?

I can only talk about my agenda. The high command is supreme. Let them decide.

There is a perception in some quarters that the high command is weak.

Don’t put words into my mouth. The high command was ruling this country six years ago. It ruled India for 70 years. The high command is not our topic of discussion. It is supreme. I am a soldier.

Why couldn’t the high command bring about a course correction?

You ask them. I don’t question them. I discuss with them.

How come Sidhu is seen as a lone ranger?

Who says so? 78 MLAs are my group. If nobody was supporting me, would you be talking about me? Why do people criticise me? You are criticised when you are strong. Zikr ussi ka hota hai jiski fiqr hoti hai. Trust characteran te hunda hai, kirdaran te hunda hai. That which needs to be proven is not worth a toss. In a democracy, proof is what people think about you.

Capt Amarinder says that Navjot Sidhu is like my son and the position in the cabinet is lying vacant for him and he can come and take it.

You insult a person, remove him and then single him out because he is asking justice for sacrilege. You see him through your insecurity and then you say he is your son. What did you do to all of his wishes for the welfare of people of Punjab? Did I ask anything for myself? I rejected every offer that you made for my family and me. I have rejected all your posts offered to me. Why would he make personal attacks on me? Have I made any personal attacks on him? Why did he say I met Kejriwal? Do you say that to a son?

Aren’t you asking for too much?

This is what the people are asking. This is what the president of Punjab Congress asked. This is what the MLAs asked for. This is what he said publicly. Why are they giving me ministry? What has happened now?

There is a perception that you enjoy very good equity with the Gandhi family and that’s your only strength in the party.

Is that so? Did they make me win five elections? What was his strength when he ran to them after making a party, after losing his deposit two times. Somebody has to be your boss.

Capt Amarinder has repeatedly said that parties operate on the principle of seniority (interrupts).

What was his seniority in the Congress at that time when he was made president in six months? A person who lost his security deposit and would not be given ticket. Sidhu is a five-time MP and come to Congress after giving up as member of the Rajya Sabha. What was his locus standi? What was the perception at that time? The perception was made by the high command. I have faith in the high command.

You have been camping in Patiala for several months. Why did you leave Amritsar and come here?

My father built this house in 1960. I have come here to my house after 15 years to recover from a life-threatening disease. Is that a crime? If someone feels scared and tells me to fight against him, I rubbished it.

But, doesn’t your criticism of the Congress government about unkept promises show it in a poor light ahead of assembly polls?

Who am I to judge? Do not blame the party for one man’s failure. Everyone was raising the beadbi issue. Why he didn’t do it? Now, 25 MLAs are questioning these jobs (to sons on MLAs). I do not assess the govt or any individual. I am not a party to their wrongdoings If anyone can declare it pass or fail, it is the people of Punjab. Just try to hear their voice. I only raise the voice of people.

If they have not been able to do what people want, who is responsible – the government, CM or the party?

I do not get into the blame game. He has to take the responsibility.

You are saying things that the opposition says?

No. Each one of the Congress MLAs is asking why justice has not been delivered sacrilege cases. Punjab Congress president has said this.

What went wrong?

He will tell. How can I tell? When you get into a bus, it is written there that sawari apne samaan di aap zimmedar hai.

A new SIT has been set up to investigate the Kotkapura police firing case. Are you hopeful of quick action?

When you set up three SITs, evidence becomes weak. I am a lawyer and that’s why I was asking questions. Did they pay attention? When four SIT members ran away, it is for the home minister to see why that happened. Who was there to supervise? Or, was it deliberate? He was to answer these questions. When they say votes were cast in the name of CM, then he should reply to all these things.

The Kharge committee gave its report 10 days ago with its recommendations. If nothing comes out of it, what will be your next step?

Agar meri chachi de muchchan hundian, main ohnu chacha na kehnda (If my aunt had a moustache, she would be my uncle). I live for what is in my hands. What is there tomorrow is not in my hands. The past is a bucket full of ashes. Between yesterday’s regret and today’s opportunity, I will take the latter. My intentions are clear and there are no covert operations in my life.

How true are the reports that you are adamant on the PCC president’s post?

Who said so? Prove it. In 17 years of politics, I have never asked for a position.

Capt Amarinder is on record that you tried to be deputy CM with charge of home dept.

Trash! He lies every day. He said things about my meetings (with AAP). Has he proved it?. What nonsense he is talking about? Talk about issues. Why is he showing his back to issues such beadbi, loan waiver and white paper? What have you done about drugs? Give your report card.

There is a profusion of billboards and posters in Patiala, saying ‘Captain for 2022’. In case the Congress goes into the assembly polls under Capt’s leadership, will you campaign for the party?

I will stay on my agenda. I will not speculate. As for posters, I have never asked anyone to put up a poster. There are 1,000 posters of mine. There are Bajwa’s posters. They don’t mean anything? Question is how many posters are there in the hearts of people. Apne mooh shadi mubarak kare jao, ohda ki hunda hai. There is no need for posters because people know who has done what. As for campaigning, there are no ‘ifs’ in my life. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.

Punjab Police claims that people who did sacrilege have been arrested. What justice do you want?

I used to hear chameleons change colour. I have not heard this statement about the arrests, but we will play for you what he said openly (asks an associate to play a clip of Amarinder’s statement in the run-up to the state polls on police firing in which he had promised action against the then CM Badal).

Why is it taking so long to resolve the Congress crisis?

How would I know? I don’t think it is a crisis. It is a difference of opinion.

What is your assessment of the party in Punjab?

I am loyal soldier of the party. I will fight.

Do you want leadership change in Punjab?

Why do you say that? I have never said that. I want things done.

How do you respond to allegations that you are power hungry?

(Laughs) I will not waste my breath. Ask the people of Punjab.

Who is the Captain of Punjab?

I will not answer this question. This is a TRP question. Let us talk about people of Punjab and welfare of the state.

You seem to be upping the ante at a time when the high command is trying to resolve the issue. Aren’t you jumping the gun?

Why would I? They are my bosses. I go public for the people of Punjab, not for my personal interest.

The CM calls this indiscipline.

Is challenging your own MLA to fight with him from his own constituency, accusing his own MLAs, threatening them discipline? Is that what discipline is? You asked for it.

What next?

The high command has to decide.


    A journalist of over 35 years standing, Ramesh Vinayak is Executive Editor of Hindustan Times at Chandigarh He specialises in covering the north Indian territory of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, besides the Punjabi diaspora.


    A senior assistant editor, Navneet Sharma leads the Punjab bureau for Hindustan Times. He writes on politics, public affairs, civil services and the energy sector.

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