Interview: PM Modi has deep commitment to Sikh issues, says Taranjit Sandhu | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Interview: PM Modi has deep commitment to Sikh issues, says Taranjit Sandhu

By Vinod Sharma
May 26, 2024 06:01 PM IST

Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu also says there is no contradiction in his joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as Samudri’s grandson

Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu harps on his Majha roots, family legacy and Washington experience to bolster his bid to enter the Lok Sabha from Amristar where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hasn’t won since Navjot Sindhu’s 2014 hat-trick. Excerpts of an interview to Vinod Sharma:

Former diplomat and BJP’s Amritsar Lok Sabha candidate Taranjit Singh Sandhu. (PTI)
Former diplomat and BJP’s Amritsar Lok Sabha candidate Taranjit Singh Sandhu. (PTI)

How’s the transformation from diplomacy to politics? Are you enjoying it?

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A) It is an extension in a sense that it is public service, and my main job was to connect the United States and India, which we could successfully do. If you go around Amritsar and look at the problems, there’s a strong necessity to connect with the central government and bring investments from abroad that are coming to India but are not coming into Amritsar.

Amritsar is a very demanding city. Its people will seek a lot of your time and attention.

The demand is on the development Amristar has missed a big time. There are problems which should’ve been solved ten years ago, like law and order, drugs, low incomes, low productivity both in industry and agriculture and cleanliness of the city. Sewerage is a big issue. Its mixing with water is creating a major health hazard. I have a very clear idea about using technology to get Amritsar going. There’s a need to improve connectivity that’ll help the economy and the huge tourist traffic into the city.

The last BJP MP from Amritsar was a cricketing/ television celebrity, Navjot Sidhu. Thereafter, the city defeated two equally prominent BJP candidates: Arun Jaitley and Hardeep Puri. Can you reverse the trend?

I’m not looking to the past; I’m looking into the future. I belong to Amritsar, have my roots in the Majha region and my forefathers, my grandfather and father are deeply respected here. They did a lot of service. I don’t think being an MP is a special position. It’s a position to serve. The need is to get Amritsar back on its feet. Amritsar is known as the place where goodness resides: sifti da ghar. Some people are trying to make it the home of hooligans: badmashan da ghar. People here are looking for change; a change for development.

What are your talking points? External affairs minister S Jaishankar came and spoke about passport offices.

He spoke about (things) much deeper. He said for viksit Bharat, viksit Amritsar has to be a part of it. People here must elect as their parliamentarian a person with a vision and understanding. International experience (of the elected representative) will help big time as technology is an important element in resolving the problems I’ve mentioned, be it drugs, cleanliness and sewerage.

One expected you to contest on the Akali Dal ticket as the grandson of Teja Singh Samundri, who played a key role in the Gurdwara reform movement of 1920. Why did you choose the BJP?

I think it’s very clear. I worked with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the last 10 years. Amritsar’s need is development. Even in the India-US relationship, development has been a very important aspect. A lot of US investments that have come into India are creating jobs. That’s one aspect. The second is that during my ten years with the PM, we worked on several Sikh issues, including heavy cut off in the blacklist (of Sikh foreign nationals) from 2014 onwards. We resolved a number of Punjab related issues, which included bringing back children during Covid-19 that included children from Punjab and Amritsar. But if your allusion is to the religious side...

No, I’m on political ideology...

My grandfather led a movement for democratisation of Gurdwaras. Today, look at the (state of) the SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee), which was so progressive at that time. Where is the threat coming (against) democratisation/freedom of Gurdwaras? I will only say that. (In comparison) look at what the BJP has done for Sikhs. Be it the 1984 riots or (Operation) Blue Star (in the Golden Temple during Indira Gandhi’s rule). Look at the celebration of Sikh Gurus: Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh and the Bal Veer Diwas celebration, where, for the first time, people across the world became fully aware of the sacrifices of Guru Gobind Singh’s children. Look at the access granted to a premier Gurdwara, which was part of our ardas (Kartarpur Sahab in Pakistan). There’s no Sikh issue on which the PM hasn’t shown his respect and deep commitment to the community’s welfare. So, I don’t see any contradiction (in joining the BJP).

There’s strong anti-incumbency against the BJP in the Punjab countryside. It seems from a distance that you’re on a half-playfield. You are disallowed access to villages by agitating farmers. How difficult is it to win this match?

As you said, from a distance it may look different because a lot of politics is being played. I have been visiting (rural areas). I did a road show in Majitha. I also went to a SC (scheduled caste) bhaichara and had meals there. The most important aspect is enhancing farmers’ incomes, whether through industry or cooperatives. The unions (leading the BJP’s boycott) have the responsibility to enhance incomes. They’re not talking about that.

Amritsar does not have a single agro processing plant for apricots or matar (green peas) which are grown big time here. Only 20 % of cargo facility of Amritsar international airport is being utilised. If need to get our agricultural produce to Saudi Arabia, UAE or Dubai (which are part of the India-Middle East-Europe corridor). The corridor is already functioning up to UAE. When the PM was there last month, he signed that agreement. The unions don’t talk about it; they aren’t aware. Incomes of farmers will be enhanced 15-20 per cent if we’re able to export our produce to these destinations that are only two hours away.

But what are we talking about? We’re only focusing on MSP (minimum support price) for wheat and rice. MSP is very complicated. It has a cost price, a selling price, environmental factors and international obligations. Let the experts handle it. Talks are the way forward, not demonstrations or blockades.

Regardless of the poll outcome, are you here to stay in Amritsar?

Absolutely. You are sitting in Samundri House, which has been here for more than 50 years. This is my house irrespective of elections. Already, the Punjabi Diaspora in the US has contributed USD 100 million for viksit Amritsar regardless of the electoral outcome. They insisted that I be on the board because of my credibility and integrity. My opponents can’t understand that. They think it’s a loan. They must understand the difference between assistance and loan. You can already see the excitement over bringing in (foreign) funds – and the central funds which have not reached the state. Amritsar is supposed to be a smart city, for which 2,000 crore were sanctioned. Where has the money disappeared? Does it look like a smart city to you?

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