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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Q & A : Amarinder Singh

'There are no rebels now'

Having successfully led the Congress back to power in Punjab two years ago, Amarinder Singh faces a major challenge in the form of the Lok Sabha elections. Earlier this year, he survived a mini-revolt in his party and is preparing to take on the rival Shiromani Akali Dal, a party that hopes to win most of the 13 seats in the State. The Chief Minister spoke to K.V. Prasad during his visit to the national Capital. Excerpts:

What is your assessment of the current political situation in Punjab?

The situation is very good. Having being in the Government for two years you normally expect us to be on the defensive. We are in fact on the offensive and there are definite indications our work would stand. I feel we would do well in all the 11 seats we are contesting. Even the NDTV survey gave us 7 seats.

In 1999, the Congress bagged eight of the 11 seats it contested against a pro-BJP verdict in other parts of the country. How would it be this time?

I feel we will do well because there is good response at our meetings and besides committed Congress votes, there are floating votes that would go our way. The achievements of my Government would also show up. For instance, the previous Shiromani Akali Dal Government of Parkash Singh Badal, had promised free power but it could not even give four hours of supply whereas we are supplying power to farmers for 10 hours a day. In addition, though farmers raised 10 crops during Mr. Badal's tenure, they bore the brunt because their produce was allowed to rot or was picked up at low prices. The delay in procurement forced the farmers to sell it at lower prices and Akali supporters picked them up and in turn sold them at a higher price. There was corruption whereas my government has paid the Minimum Support Price.

There has been a perception that the drive by your government at times bordered on political vendetta, especially with Mr. Badal and his family members being booked on various charges. Is the perception correct?

What can I do if senior political leaders who were in the previous government are booked for corruption? Should we let them go? Let me tell you, that we did not pick anybody up or put them behind bars. The anti-corruption bureau collected the evidence and took it to the courts and followed the course. It is not a political issue of vendetta. We caught 300 people during the two-year period of which only 10 were Akalis/Ministers.

Recently, you leadership came under attack and ultimately led to the Congress central leadership appointing a Deputy Chief Minister. What will be its impact on the party's prospects in the elections?

These things do not help. The people in Punjab have sensed it and now it is quite clear that the whole effort was guided by personal interests and not for the party. Nobody except one person got anything [an obvious reference to the Deputy Chief Minister, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal].

There have been complaints by some of your senior colleagues and party members that you are inaccessible...

That's not true. It was I who picked up the party in Punjab four and half years ago, and worked and fashioned its growth to the extent that we came to power in 2002 in the State. Earlier, in 1999, the Congress won 8 Lok Sabha seats while one of our allies, the CPI, won the Bhatinda seat while the CPI (M) lost Sangrur. If I was inaccessible how did I get the support? Since they cannot say that I am corrupt, they charge that I am inaccessible.

Talking of the Left parties, the CPI had earlier complained that despite being allocated seats in the Assembly polls, there were several Congress rebels that actually affected the CPI candidates. How will you tackle the problem in the Lok Sabha polls?

There was a problem then but now, in this parliamentary election, there are no rebels.

Talking of rebels, it is the Akalis who were facing a serious problem including in a stronghold like Tarn Tarn, or Amritsar and even Sangrur from where the Union Minister, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, is contesting.

But some of your MPs have left the party and are upset?

In the case of Gurcharan Singh Galib, he had requested in writing that he would not contest from Ludhiana. The seat is now being contested by the former Youth Congress chief, Manish Tiwari, while in the case of Hoshairpur, the seat was allocated to the CPI (M). It was the decision of the party central leadership.

Recently there was a charge that your Government was seeking to take political advantage by announcing measures to honour the former Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandhak Committee chief, Gurcharan Singh Tohra.

No, we are not taking any political advantage. It has nothing to do with politics and in fact he was my political opponent. When Mr. Tohra took over as the SGPC chief 27 years ago he owned 6.5 acres of land in his village and a small house and till date he has not added to it. Leaders like him should be honoured for they spent their entire life in the service of the people. I have even decided to recommend his name for a national honour.

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