We will inquire into every complaint against the Badals and bring them to book if they are found guilty. But I will not indulge in political vendetta: Amarinder Singh.
Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, has reiterated that his government was committed to eradicating the drug menace which virtually has finished off one generation in the state. In an interview to The Sunday Guardian, among other things, he resolved to deal with those indulging in religious sacrilege with an iron hand. Accusing the Akalis, particularly his predecessor, Parkash Singh Badal, of plunging the state into a financial crisis, he stated that the ten years’ of their governance has been terrible for the economy. Excerpts:
Q: You came to power on certain key planks, of which drugs and religious sacrilege were two important ones. Eighteen months down the line, to what extent do you think you have succeeded in delivering on these promises?
A: I can say with all sincerity that we have well and truly delivered on both these promises over the past 18 months. There has been a drastic decline in the incidents of sacrilege, and the few that occurred were quickly solved by the police. In most cases, I am told by the DGP that it was miscreants who had been playing mischief rather than any serious attempt to spread communal disharmony. The message is clear—nobody, and I repeat, nobody will be allowed to create strife or tension in the state. Punjab has witnessed enough of it, and I will not let the hard-earned peace in the state to be destroyed again, at any cost. We have been dealing with any attempts to disturb this peace with an iron hand, and that has worked quite well. We will continue to do that, to ensure that there is no trouble in Punjab again.
As far as drugs are concerned, I am quite satisfied at the handling of the problem by the Special Task Force (STF), which was working independently for several months and is now functioning as an autonomous body under the Punjab Police. They have broken the backbone of the drug mafia, which is what I had promised to do. Before March 2018, drugs were freely and easily available across Punjab. Today, whatever little is trickling in is from the neighbouring states and we are now coordinating closely with them to put a stop to that. The drug smugglers are mostly in police net and the rest have fled the state. Youngsters are coming in large numbers to the clinics for treatment and rehabilitation. Under our DAPO programme, the common people of Punjab are joining the government’s mission to wipe out drugs in a big way.
Q: There are two major amendments to the law that your government has proposed in order to check drugs menace and prevent incidents of desecration. Do you not think these are rather extreme steps? And do they not reflect a considerable desperation on the part of your government following its failure to resolve these two grave problems?
A: Look, as I have said earlier, what we inherited from the SAD-BJP was a total mess on all counts whether it was on the law and order front, or the financial situation, or agriculture and industry, Punjab had been plunged into a state of total devastation by the erstwhile government.
This was even more true in the case of drugs and sacrilege. Since my government took over, we have achieved major success in the stringent implementation of the NDPS Act against drug offenders.
On the sacrilege front, the Justice (Retd) Ranjit Singh Commission has done a remarkable job to get to the root of the trouble in all the major cases of desecration, especially Bargari, and the firing incidents at Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura. However, we feel that given the seriousness of the problems, strong exemplary and deterrent punishment is needed to ensure that there is no recurrence of these problems. Punjab has suffered enough on both these counts. While communal strife took more than 35,000 innocent lives during the peak terrorism period of the 1980s, drugs have ruined a whole generation of our youth. We will not allow these things to be repeated at any cost. Hence the decision was taken to recommend death in the first instance of drug offence and life imprisonment in the case of desecration of any religious text to the Central government.
I am confident the Centre will appreciate the importance of these amendments to the law in the interest not just of Punjab but the entire country.
Q: There is a general feeling that you have been going soft on the Akali leadership despite the fact that you had promised, in the run-up to the Assembly polls, that you would ensure that they would be brought to book for their various acts of commission and omission. Your comments on this?
A: Yes, I had clearly said they will be punished for ruining Punjab and we will not allow anyone to go scot free, howsoever high they might be in the political hierarchy. There is no denying that the Akali leadership, right down from Parkash Singh Badal, has brought Punjab to the brink of disaster. I have maintained all along that we will inquire into every allegation and complaint against the Badals, and others, including Bikram Singh Majithia, and bring them to book if they are found guilty of any misdeed. But I have also maintained from the beginning that I will not stoop to their level to indulge in political vendetta. We shall, and are following the due process of law to ensure that each one of those who were responsible for Punjab’s devastation face due punishment for their crimes. Let me assure the people of Punjab that the moment investigative agencies find anything against them we will ensure that they are immediately booked and proceeded against under the law.
Q: There are allegations that you have been raising the bogey of Khalistan to divert public attention from your government’s failures, and to create a momentum for the Congress ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections? Is the threat of Khalistan a creation of your government or is it a reality?
A: This is a myth created by our political opponents and, unfortunately, promoted by the media. In fact, some of them have gone as far as to say that we (the Congress) have been hobnobbing with Khalistanis to further our electoral prospects. This is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard being said about the Congress. Do you really believe that a party led by a family who has lost so much to terrorism can ever think about playing around with public sentiment on such a sensitive issue? And for me personally, I cannot even contemplate to be remotely connected with any elements that are bent on disturbing the peace and harmony of Punjab.
I am surprised there is anyone who has even a fleeting doubt about the Khalistani threat perception, given the brazenness with which certain extremist forces are operating from foreign soils, quite manifestly under the ISI umbrella. Every Indian knows how real the ISI threat is, and how the Pakistani agency is continuously working to destabilise India in whichever possible way. The Khalistani movement, though confined to foreign nations like Canada, Germany, Italy, UK etc, poses a real threat to us, particularly in Punjab, and we can ignore it only at our own peril. Even the Central government recognises the gravity of this threat, and had communicated as much to the Canadian Prime Minister during his visit to India earlier this year. More recently, Twitter has blocked the personal account of Sikhs For Justice (SJF) leader G.S. Pannun. Do you think they would do that if the threat was not real?
Q: Do you think the Congress really stands a chance in the ensuing Lok Sabha polls? To what extent do you think that Rahul Gandhi would be able to steer the anti-BJP coalition, which most political pundits believe is the only hope for a non-BJP government to take over the country’s reins?
A: Of course, the Congress stands more than a chance to win the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. People are quite frustrated and sick of the BJP-led government, which has brought nothing but ruin for them.
Prices of essential commodities are out of control, the law and order situation in the country is at its nadir, the secular fabric of the nation is being ripped apart, development is at a standstill.
In fact, the nation has taken many steps back on its progressive charter in the past four plus years. People want change for the better, and the Congress is the only party which can offer and bring about that change, albeit with the support of other like-minded parties. As far as Rahul is concerned, at the cost of repetition, let me state once again, he is the right man at the right place to lead the country at this critical juncture. And every party that believes in the secular and democratic ethos should come forward to strengthen his hands and free India of the NDA misrule.
Q: On a final note, can you honestly say that the Congress in Punjab has really fulfilled the people’s aspirations? Or will the Lok Sabha elections be the litmus test to reveal where the party actually stands today?
A: When the Gurdaspur byelection was announced, the media declared it to be a litmus test for us. The same happened at the time of Shahkot bypoll. And each time, the Punjab Congress swept the poll with a two-thirds majority. So if you feel the Lok Sabha elections will be another litmus test, then I am more than happy. Because it means we are once again set to sweep the elections.
But on a serious note, we have posted such resounding victories in these bypolls because we have been delivering to the aspirations of Punjab’s people. After 10 years, the people of Punjab are finally breathing freely, without fear or insecurity. There is positivity in the industrial climate and business houses and investors are virtually making a beeline for the state. The farming community finally has something to look forward to, with our debt waiver scheme coming as a boon for them. Education and health sectors are also looking up after a long time and the people of the state are no longer running out to other places for education or medical care.
Having said that, let me make it clear that while we have made a good beginning, there is still a considerable way to go towards the full implementation of our promises. The mess of 10 years will take some time to be cleared, and the next three and a half years will witness things brightening up further on all counts. We have kept all our promises so far, and we will ensure that this one is fulfilled too.