Lok Sabha elections 2019: ‘People of Punjab want a strong PM, there is very strong Modi wave’, says Sukhbir Singh Badal
SAD Leader Sukhbir Badal maintains that PM Modi will retain power post May 23.Updated: May 15, 2019 22:09 IST
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) lost power to the Congress in Punjab in 2017 when it could win just 15 seats in the 117-member state assembly. It finished third with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) emerging as the main opposition party with 20 seats. SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, 57, who is contesting Lok Sabha elections along with his wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal, spoke toHindustan Times about his party’s prospects in the national polls. Edited excerpts:
What are the SAD’s prospects following its worst performance in the 2017 assembly elections?
At that time [in 2017], there was a peculiar situation in Punjab. [Chief Minister] Captain Amarinder Singh, as state Congress president, went beyond limits which nobody usually does. He publicly swore by the Gutka Sahib [a booklet containing hymns from Sikh scriptures] and Guru Gobind Singh while committing himself to tall promises such as farm debt waiver and vanquishing the drug menace in four weeks. A person goes to that limit only when he is 100% sure of something. Here he used the religious oath as a weapon. As per the typical Punjabi or Sikh nature, a person swearing in the name of gurus cannot go back on his promise. Nobody then knew that Amarinder was just playing a fraud on the people. That showed his character. Just to become chief minister, he took a false oath in the name of the guru. That impacted a lot of people. He promised to waive all sorts of loans from banks, cooperative societies… That became a major factor.
Then, the AAP was attacking only Akalis. We came under attack from two fronts. They blamed us for sacrilege. This election, things have changed. People have got to know the reality and realised that Amarinder is a liar who cheated them in the guru’s name. There is resentment against him. The AAP’s real face has been exposed. In two years, there is a non-existent chief minister in Punjab. It is like a car without a driver. Not a single new brick of development has been laid. All the facilities that we had given to the poor have been withdrawn.
Are you counting more on the Congress government’s non-performance or the Narendra Modi factor?
At one level, there is a strong anti-Amarinder sentiment. Plus, we have a very good prime ministerial candidate in Modi. So it is a combination of both factors.
BJP’s national security narrative does not seem to have much resonance in Punjab.
There is an undercurrent, particularly in the urban areas. People want a strong Prime Minister. Punjab is the shield of India. If we do not have a strong Prime Minister, the biggest sufferer will be Punjab.
What is the national election outcome going to be?
India has seen various governments in the past 70 years. We cannot keep on wasting five years after five years. The nation needs somebody, who can bring about change and is decisive. Nobody fills that space better than Modi.
How do you react to the assessment that the BJP may not get a majority on its own?
That nobody can predict. Only God knows that. But there is a very strong Modi wave. There is no Rahul Gandhi wave. See the crowds that Modi is drawing in Punjab and everywhere. It is huge.
There is a sense in some quarters that the minorities, especially Muslims, are uncomfortable with Modi’s style of nationalism?
Muslims have no reason to feel insecure when the Akali Dal is a dominant partner of the [BJP-led] NDA [National Democratic Alliance]. We represent a minority. The SAD-BJP alliance is a security for all minorities.
How many seats will the SAD-BJP get in Punjab?
We should get around 10 seats [out of 13]. I genuinely feel there is a strong undercurrent.
Has the Sikh anger against you subsided?
There is no anger. In the last assembly election, the Congress got 37% of the vote share, the Akalis 31% and AAP 21%. So our cadre withstood that onslaught. Let us not go by the number of seats. People still have faith in us.
For the first time in SAD’s history its president, that is you, is contesting the Lok Sabha elections alongside his wife. What was the idea behind this?
I am a fighter. I fight from the front and take my rivals head-on. Once Amarinder said he will win all 13 seats, I decided to take up the challenge.
General Amarinder has put all his soldiers in the front, while he is sitting in an air-conditioned office and letting his army die. That is the difference between the two generals. Life is always a risk. When you are fighting a war, fight like a warrior.