‘Modi vs who’ will be the key issue in 2019, says former Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal
Akali Dal patriarch Parkash Singh Badal says a grand alliance of Oppn parties will show fissures sooner or later, and hopes that ‘Modi magic’ will help his party’s prospects in Punjab.Updated: Jul 30, 2018 06:15 IST
At 90, Parkash Singh Badal may have passed on the mantle of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to his son and heir-apparent Sukhbir Singh Badal, but the Akali patriarch remains the face and fulcrum of the regional party’s long-standing alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Politically agile and astute as ever, the five-time Punjab chief minister spoke to Ramesh Vinayak, in his native village Badal, on national politics, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Modi factor, and minority outreach, among other issues. Edited excerpts:
How do you look at the national political scenario in the run up to next year’s Lok Sabha elections?
It is shaping up as a ‘National Democratic Alliance (NDA) versus Others’ scenario. Cobbling together an alliance of opposition parties will be easier said than done.
Even if a grand alliance happens, you will see contradictions and fissures surfacing sooner rather than later. At the end of the day, there are only two national parties: the BJP and the Congress. The others will weigh their options and see how they can have a bigger role in the next government. Politics is all about self-interest now. There are no principles.
What prospects do you see for the Narendra Modi-led NDA?
Mr. Modi is working very hard. The Opposition has no leader yet to match him. People will judge a leader on whether he can handle and run the country. I’m sure the voter will give Modi-ji another five years, whether the BJP tally goes up or down. To his credit, the Prime Minister has elevated India both in the eyes of his countrymen and the world.
Will the BJP be able to repeat its performance of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections?
One can’t predict that. But it’s certain that the BJP will be able to form the next government. There is still a lot of time to go. Politics is not a formula. It is all about groundswell. It is difficult to gauge the mood of the people. Look at how the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) unexpectedly rode a wave in Punjab in 2014 and got four MPs who had nothing to do with politics. When there is a wave, no one looks at faces.
What’s your view on Congress president Rahul Gandhi?
I avoid criticising others. But Rahul is immature. He may mature over time, but to think now that he will be the PM is unimaginable. Being Prime Minister is a big responsibility and he is not up to the task yet. I don’t think people want to remove Modi to make way for Rahul. He has a long way to go. The Congress has shrunk and the Gandhi family’s charisma has faded. The Congress lacks leadership and can’t look beyond the Gandhis.
What are the key issues of the 2019 battle?
The foremost is who will be Prime Minister. A leader who can take the country forward -- that’s the only issue that will matter. In that sense, it will be ‘Modi vs Who?’
Your party has been a founder partner of the NDA. What difference do you see between the NDA led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the one under Modi?
It remains a two-way friendship... ( laughs). I won’t comment further.
There has been a sense of unease among some NDA allies.
The BJP should take along those allies who have stood by it. Those Bombay wale (Shiv Sena) are still not clear (on continuing with the NDA). But the BJP’s maximum effort should be to stick with the old allies.
There is a sense in your party that because of its own majority, the BJP took the Akali Dal for granted and didn’t treat it fairly.
Our relations with the BJP are not transactional. We are not with them to get posts of governor or positions of power. Ours is an alliance of hearts and minds. We have steadfastly been with the BJP since 1996 and will continue to do so.
What do you make of the Modi government’s negative perception among minorities -- an issue that the Opposition is trying to exploit?
I have always told the BJP leaders that you should take Muslims and Christians along. A government is supposed to reach out to all communities. Where is our shortcoming? Why are they (Christians and Muslims) not coming along? Their (the BJP’s) view is that they don’t come to our fold. I say, if you show love, even animals can be won over. Once you form a government, you don’t belong to a community or a party, but to the entire country. You have to respect all religious and cultural diversities.
Is there a sense of insecurity among Muslims, especially due to mob lynching of cattle traders?
Thodi si toh hai (There is a little).
How can the BJP dispel that?
It all depends on actions. You can’t say, ‘Oh! They are not going to vote for us’. A political party should continue its efforts to win over the confidence of all communities. You have to take everybody along. In Punjab, the Akali Dal gave assembly tickets to 10 Hindus and many of them won. That strengthened our communal harmony.
What about fears that the BJP may polarise the 2019 elections to get Hindu votes?
It will be difficult to succeed through this approach. Such a gamble works once in a while. You can’t run this country without secularism. Communal amity and inclusiveness are non-negotiable principles of our democracy.
In 2014 polls, the Akali Dal won only four of the 13 Lok Sabha constituencies in Punjab. The party’s political fortunes haven’t seen an upturn since.
We have to work a lot harder. We need to step up our communication and connect with the people.
What will the Akalis count on in 2019 — anti-incumbency against the Amarinder Singh government or the Modi factor?
People are not satisfied with the Captain Amarinder Singh government. The Modi magic should work for us in Punjab. The key question is going to be: Who will be the next prime minister? Modi has no challenger. His diplomatic outreach, surgical strikes, and hike in minimum support price (MSP) of crops will work to the NDA’s advantage.
Will the MSP hike mitigate farmers’ distress, which is a potential poll issue?
It’s a positive step but the MSP hike alone doesn’t mean an end to farmers’ woes. The government must ensure that the crops are actually bought at the MSP so that farmers get the benefit. There is no one-shot solution to the farming crisis. There has to be a road map to raise farmers’ incomes through allied vocations and skilling.
How do you look at the Captain Amarinder Singh government’s performance?
The chief minister is inaccessible. The communication gap between the government and people has never been so wide. The Congress promised a debt waiver for all farmers and jobs for each household. But it has failed to deliver. The time has come to enact a law to hold parties accountable for what they promise in the manifestos. It has to be a legally binding document, not just a pamphlet of fake promises. This deception game must end.
Will the AAP be a challenger?
Not at all. Its game is up. Look at the way they are fighting with each other. There is no discipline. Whatever little support it still has will evaporate by the next elections.
Your senior party leader and Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa has endorsed the call for legalising the sale of opium and other soft intoxicants to fight the hard drug menace. What is your view?
A couple of states permit the cultivation of poppy. Cultivators produce more than the government-permitted quota and smuggle it into other states. There should be an all-party meeting to discuss this (allowing sale of opium). If the government can’t stop hard drugs, the next best thing is to minimise them.
Why are the Akalis apprehensive about the two commissions inquiring into false cases against Congress leaders and sacrilege issues during your tenure as chief minister?
This is a part of the Congress government’s politics of vendetta. The aim is to defame the Akalis. How can the Akali Dal, which has a history of being at the forefront of fighting for religious rights of the Sikhs, be blamed for the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib? We don’t expect a fair report.
What is the secret of your political longevity?
The confidence of the people. I have treated the party like my mother. Even while disagreeing on critical issues such as the 1985 Rajiv-Longowal Accord (Punjab Accord), I remained a loyal soldier. Unfortunately, politics today is all about power. In the good old days, when I started my career, social commitment was the dominant theme. Now it’s greed for power and money.