Akalis not to part with more seats for BJP

SAD chief Sukhbir Badal rejects calls for reworked seat-sharing formula

Published - March 01, 2020 10:59 pm IST - CHANDIGARH

Sukhbir Singh Badal. File photo: Akhilesh Kumar

Sukhbir Singh Badal. File photo: Akhilesh Kumar

Amid a growing demand from Punjab’s BJP leaders for ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to part with more seats for the 2022 Assembly polls, SAD chief and former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal dismissed the possibility of any change in the current seat-sharing arrangement . Under the formula, the SAD contests on 94 seats and the BJP on 23.

Speaking to The Hindu , Mr. Badal termed the recent violence in Delhi as “saddening” and “unfortunate”.

“Instances of the police not responding to calls during the violence clearly reflect the attitude adopted by the force,” he said.

For inclusive CAA

On the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), Mr. Badal said the party has stuck to its stand from day one.

“We support the Act as far as it grants protection and safeguards to the Sikhs and several other communities including the Hindus [from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan], but the Act should not exclude Muslims because then it falls short of being inclusive and secular. We are a secular country. You should not include or exclude any name,” he said.

With the incumbent government in Punjab about to complete three years in power, Mr. Badal hit out at Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, terming him as the “'most incompetent Chief Minister the State has ever witnessed'”. He accused the government of taking U-turns on its promises made in the run up to the 2017 polls.

Mr. Badal, who is steering his party’s campaign for the Assembly elections, denied that the SAD had been hurt by the “'revolt” of a few senior leaders, saying, “'When people retire that doesn't mean it’s a crises. Their exit won't impact the party.”

Excerpts from the interview:

The relation between Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and BJP had been under strain, which was witnessed during Delhi and Haryana Assembly polls. Will this impact your alliance in Punjab ahead of the 2022 polls?

There were some issues but now everything has been sorted out. We will be fighting the next Assembly polls in alliance. We will fight the polls on the same formula (seat-sharing) that we had been doing since the beginning. There’s not going to be any single more seat or less seat. There’s no question.

The SAD recently saw a few Taksali (senior) leaders revolting. Is the party facing an internal crises? How are you preparing 2022?

There is no crisis in the party. The leaders who have left, it's basically retirement. When people retire and go that doesn't mean it’s a crisis. Their exit won't impact the party.

We are fully prepared. In 2017 Assembly polls also, when we lost, we (SAD-BJP) were number two in the vote share. Congress had 38% vote share, we were close to 31% vote share. The difference was not much..And now after Congress has been in power for three years, the people have seen this government’s poor performance. They have been exposed, people are fed up and want change. In our rallies and mass programmes, which is generating huge response, people tell us about their suffering due the indifferent attitude of the government. People are now comparing what Mr. Parkash Singh Badal’s government did for them and state’s overall development.

SAD has been accused of remaining silent on the recent communal violence in Delhi?

We have not been silent. From day one we are very clear that it is very unfortunate.. It is the government, which is responsible for maintaining law and order. They have to ensure the guilty are put behind bars.

We know how it feels. In 1984 [anti-Sikh riots] thousands of our brothers and sisters were killed. We have been fighting the cases for 30 years. I don’t want similar repetition happening again. Irrespective of the position, whosoever is guilty should be put behind bars. It's job of the police. Our MP Naresh Gujral had written to the Home Minister about inaction and apathy of Delhi police during the violence. If an MP talks to somebody and still there’s no response is coming what do you think would be effect of a common man’s word? This clearly shows the attitude of the police at that time.

Opposition parties have accused SAD of double speak on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

We have not taken different stand on CAA. We have stuck to the same stand from the beginning. We fought for CAA because we have seen thousands of our Hindus, Sikhs and people of Sindhi community who are from Pakistan come to India in last 15-20 years..We have been fighting their cases for citizenship. We support the Act as far as it grants protection and safeguards to the Sikhs and several other communities including the Hindus.

But the Act should not exclude Muslims because then it falls short of being inclusive and secular. We are a secular country. You should not include or exclude any name. I said in Parliament why are you excluding the name Muslim? If there’s nobody from the community [seeking citizenship] it’s fine. But you can't say exclude so and so.

From day one we have been sticking to the same stand. We have presented our views. We are a small minority in the whole thing (government) but we have clearly put forward our views what we stand for inside the Parliament and outside as well.

Apprehensions are being raised by those opposing the CAA that it is a step towards creating a ‘Hindu Rashtra’.

I can’t comment on this at the moment because a lot of politics had gone into this. What the intention was and what has come out afterwards... everyone has jumped into it. When the dust settles down, we will get to know what's the exact picture.

How do assess the current Congress government's performance in Punjab, which about to complete three years in power?

Even a child in Punjab can answer this question. People want to punish the ruling Congress as the government has set new records in neglect of State’s development. He (Capt. Amarinder Singh) is the most incompetent Chief Minister that Punjab has ever had. Chief Minister's job is do some work, he doesn't do that. He is hardly seen in Punjab, he doesn't meet anybody.

Name one promise, on which they (Congress) have delivered. During the last Assembly election, the Chief Minister was desperate to come into power and form the government and hence, went overboard with promises. After forming the government, he is not bothered about keeping his promises. Capt. Amarinder has put forth the claim of ‘breaking the back-bone of the drug mafia’. The truth is that he has broken the back-bone of Punjabis.

People are so fed up with him that they want to get rid of him as soon as possible. Today, drugs mafia is being patronised by Congress leaders.

The Chief Minister promised that he would waive the complete debt of all the farmers — including debt from commercial banks, co-operative societies, arthiyas (commission agents) and other sources. But after assuming power he backed out of this promise. They promised something, have done something else and are now involved only in cover up.

After the Aam Aadmi Party’s resounding triumph in Delhi Assembly polls, do you think it will pose a greater challenge in Punjab?

The whole situation in Delhi is very different from Punjab.. He (Arvind Kejriwal) can say something, promise something and get away with it but it’s not the case in Punjab. In Delhi fight was between the AAP and the BJP... the Congress converted all its vote to AAP and due to this they (AAP) won. In Punjab the Assembly polls in 2022 will see a direct fight between the Akali Dal and the Congress. AAP will be third.

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