Notwithstanding the recent controversies shrouding the Punjab Congress over the appointments of “tainted” leaders, first Kamal Nath and then Asha Kumari, as AICC in-charge of the state, former Chief Minister, MP and the party’s face for the 2017 Assembly elections in Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, is confident that such issues wouldn’t impact the party’s prospects. Though he maintains that appointments of state in-charges by the Congress are necessary to bridge the gap between the state and Central leadership, Singh is of the strong opinion that “empowering” state leaders in the “true sense” is the key for Congress’ revival in states.
In a candid interview with The Sunday Guardian, Amarinder Singh answered a wide range of questions—from accusations that he “blackmailed” the party high command to get the reins of the state to his claim of ending drug trade in Punjab within four weeks of Congress’ coming to power. Excerpts from the interview in which Amarinder promises “azaadi” (freedom) to Punjabis from drugs and corruption, if he’s voted to power:
Q. The recent appointments of controversial leaders, first, Kamal Nath and then, Asha Kumari have been termed from “avoidable mistakes” to “self goals” by the Congress. What do you have to say about them?
A.The accusations against Kamal Nath’s role in 1984 riots were never proved. The Opposition raked up the issue 32 years after it had happened, only because it’s an emotive one for the state. I feel that there was no reason for Kamal Nath to quit, as he would have proved an asset to the party in Punjab. However, I respect his decision, as it shows his true character and the high moral values he upholds.
As for Asha Kumari, the higher courts have stayed her conviction. The allegations against her are politically motivated. She is a capable leader and has huge organisational experience. She too would be helpful to the party.
Q. Does Congress really need these AICC general secretaries in-charges, as they often end up emerging as alternate power centres, proving counter-productive to the state leaders?
A. For a national party like the Congress, such appointments are necessary, as these leaders act as a bridge between the Central and state leadership.
However, I’m of the firm opinion that Congress needs to empower its state leaders, particularly in states where they are up against regional parties.
When you are fighting regional leaders, like we are in Punjab, the local leadership of the Congress should have the powers to take all vital decisions rather than looking for a nod from Delhi. Be it selection of candidates, allocation of manpower and organising and running poll campaign, it should be left to the state leadership. Sitting here in Punjab we know what is best for the state and are capable of taking the right decisions. However, this does not mean that we would keep the high command in dark. The message to the people should be that it’s the leaders in Punjab who are taking decision and not that their fate is being decided by Delhi.
Q. You have admitted that you had told Rahul Gandhi that you would quit the Congress, if you weren’t made the PCC chief. And now your loyalties to the Congress are being questioned by your opponents, who accuse you of blackmailing the party high command to get the post.
A. This is absurd. Those who are making these allegations are naïve. I had told Rahul Gandhi that I would have to look for alternatives if he had someone else in his mind. The reason was simple… I have been the state’s Chief Minister and have led the party in two elections and am very capable of doing it again. Also, I had to keep my political future and ground realities in mind, particularly so when this happens to be my last electoral battle. My loyalties to the Congress and its leadership are unquestionable.
Q. Who’s the Congress’ main opponent in the 2017 elections: the Akalis or the AAP?
A. AAP is a bubble that’s bound to burst sooner than later. It’s already shrinking as Punjabis cannot be fooled by the theatrics of Arvind Kejriwal and party. For us, our main opponent is SAD and we are fighting against their decade-long misrule. In the past 10 years, corruption in Punjab has seeped all the way from the very top to the bottom.
Eventually, AAP would be nowhere in the reckoning. The maximum it can do is to be a spoiler by eating into some percentage of our votes. However, I’m confident that the damage won’t be much, as people know that every vote for AAP could mean a vote for the Akalis. It would be a decisive vote in our favour, as people do not want Akalis or AAP in the state.
Q. People are questioning your resolve to end the drug trade in Punjab in four weeks of coming to power. Isn’t the claim far stretched?
A. No. It’s very much achievable. The main reason why the trade is flourishing today is the lack of political will to tackle it. And the reason for this is clear, as Akali are sharing the spoils from it. If the law is enforced by the police in its letter and spirit, with the backing of the state, even four weeks would be too much to break the backbone of traffickers in the state. The task of rehabilitation of the drug addicts is, however, a bigger problem, as it’s a long drawn process, and we will ensure that these people are brought back to the mainstream.
Q. What are your promises to the state, if the Congress in voted to power?
A. While the party would come out with a detailed manifesto soon, the two things that I promise Punjabis at the outset is “azaadi” (freedom) from drugs and corruption—the two things that have jeopardised the present and the future of the people of this great state. Bringing Punjab back to its prosperous glory would be our main goal.