Little known until recently, Asha Kumari, MLA from Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh, replaced Kamal Nath as the AICC general secretary in-charge of Punjab after Nath resigned from the post following a controversy related to the 1984 Sikh riots. However, Kumari’s appointment has also been no less controversial as a court in Chamba had convicted her in a land grab case in Himachal Pradesh, although she later secured bail from the Himachal Pradesh High Court. The Punjab Assembly elections next year can see a three-cornered fight among the SAD-BJP alliance, AAP and the Congress. Ahead of the crucial polls, a beleaguered Asha Kumari, who visited Punjab earlier this week, spoke to The Sunday Guardian about the Congress’ preparation on the ground. Excerpts:
Q: What would be the key Congress strategy in Punjab for next year’s Assembly polls in the state?
A: The Congress is confident of winning in Punjab and the cadre on the ground is working hard for it. As far as strategy is concerned, it is very much in place, but we won’t like to spell it out at this moment. Our election manifesto will be out soon and it has our priorities and goals well listed.
Q: Who do you think is your main rival, the Aam Aadmi Party or the SAD-BJP alliance? Has the entry of AAP in Punjab politics affected the Congress in some way?
A: The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and BJP alliance is obviously our main opponent; the AAP is non-existent for us. The entry of AAP in Punjab politics does not matter for the Congress and its future in Punjab. Believe me, the people of Punjab will not accept a party like AAP that just believes in theatrics rather than real issues.
Q: Is the Congress deliberating on any alliance with smaller parties in Punjab?
A: No, there are no such smaller parties in Punjab for an alliance-like arithmetic. The Congress will go alone and we are confident of forming the government in 2017.
Q: The appointment of the AICC general secretary in-charge of Punjab has been in controversy recently. First Kamal Nath and later your appointment have again triggered a controversy. Do you think this has affected the image of the Congress in the state?
A: This issue has already been put to rest and has now become a non-issue. Let us not discuss something which has no relevance anymore. It won’t affect the cadre in Punjab and we are confident of winning this election.
Q: Who is likely to be your Chief Ministerial candidate?
A: Like in every election, we would go with a face for the elections. However, right now, we cannot say who that would be. It is the decision of the party high command and when the right time comes, the high command will take a decision on it.
Q: How is your equation with Congress’ chief campaign strategist Prashant Kishor?
A: He is our chief strategist and he had been working much before I took charge of Punjab. Yes, I have met him, and we share a good equation, and he knows his job well.
Q: As far as the alleged drug abuse issue in Punjab is concerned, how does the Congress plan to put an end to it, if voted to power?
A: Rehabilitation and putting an end to the drug menace would be our priority in the state and our PCC president, Captain Amarinder Singh, has already given a deadline for that.
Q: How difficult do you think it would be to handle Punjab’s alleged drug problem?
A: “Big families” are indulging in drug trafficking in Punjab. Drugs are being smuggled in red beacon cars and buses owned by a particular family. The traffickers need to be caught and booked first; only then can this problem be stopped. The people of Punjab are fed up of the misrule of the Akalis and they just want to get rid of them. Their tenure has been marred by corruption and mis-governance.