Dhaka, Bangladesh
Like-minded parties, secular forces must come together: Amarinder Singh

Like-minded parties, secular forces must come together: Amarinder Singh

By Smita Gupta

(From yesterday's issue) What about the farm loan waiver? The Budget doesn't have to produce the money to pay off the banks. What we are doing is that to a certain limit, we will eliminate all loans. The cooperative department will negotiate with the banks to bring the interest down, etc. Then we'll take a long-term commitment with the banks to repay on behalf of those small farmers. What are the other out-of-the-box ideas? When we promised to give fully loaded telephones, everyone said you're bribing your voters. That was not our idea. I have 99 lakh youngsters without jobs; there's a great deal of drug addiction. I want to take their mind away from drugs so that they can talk to their buddies and this, incidentally, is only for families with an income of less than a certain amount and where the boys have studied up to Class 10. Then we have set up a Special Task Force to deal with the drug problem. A grade one gram of heroin used to cost ?1,500. It has now mounted so much, it is ?5,000. And the rehab centres have started to fill up. So the pressure is beginning to work. Incidentally, the Delhi government had better look out: our information is that the sellers are all moving to Delhi… I am sure our police are in touch with the Delhi police on this. You enjoyed a good equation with Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was Prime Minister in your first chief ministerial tenure. What's it like with the present Modi government? I had a problem with cash credit limit for my crops: we had come in when the wheat harvest had started. I met [Finance Minister Arun] Jaitley four or five times and he sorted it out. Every time, he has helped me. The Prime Minister has helped me; all the ministers I have met have been helpful. In the political field, it is different, but at that level of government-to-government, there has been no trouble. You have set up an Economic Reforms Commission. Do you think it could become unpopular? Punjab has to tighten its belt and increase its revenue. We have a very liberal policy for industrialisation… I went to Bombay and met 23 captains of industry: all 23 have shown positive interest in Punjab. Eight have already arrived in Punjab and are talking to our people; another three or four have shown interest… people are also coming from Delhi and other smaller industrial groups. All they want is a level playing field, power availability, power at a reasonable price, and a liberalisation law. We have worked out a single window system with one officer who gives all clearances. So there is no hassle for any businessman to come. Punjab's industrialised parts went to Haryana after Punjab was divided. In 1947, most of Punjab went to Pakistan. Then, thanks to the Akalis' Dharam Yudh Morcha, in 1966, Punjab was divided 60-40... 40 [to] Haryana. In united Punjab, because of the animosity and the war of 1947, the wars of 1962 and 1965, Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon, our Chief Minister then, built our industrial belt away from the borders, in Faridabad and Gurgaon. When Haryana was created, everything went to Haryana. These Akalis are so short-sighted; they gave away our tourist, forest and electricity production potential to Himachal. Why did this happen? In 1966, Sikhs were only 22% of Punjab and could never form a government, so they wanted to make it a Sikh-majority State and then make us into this big mess… with a debt of ?2 lakh crore. You are confident you'll revive industry in Punjab. I think so. I don't see hot wars taking place now. The wars in the world will now be economic, whether with the Chinese - they may make their noises here or there - or Pakistan - they make their noises to keep their people under control. Hamara Hindustan to chal raha hain (We're doing okay). Our economic growth is 6.7% - it may have come down a bit because of demonetisation. Unka to kuch bhi nahin hain (They, Pakistan, have nothing). They (Pakistan) are not so bothered about us - they are worried about their western borders where they are in full battle with the Taliban and the ISIS is now going to come there. They will be enmeshed in that. What's your take on the Sutlej Yamuna Link project? I have suggested to [Union Home Minister] Rajnath Singh that under the auspices of the water resources department, why don't we sit down and discuss our problem? We don't want to deny anyone water, if Punjab has surplus water. I remember a day when Rajasthan was passing through a drought, thousands of cows were dying, people did not have drinking water, and [Chief Minister] Vasundhara [Raje] called me up. Our cotton planting was going on. So I shut all Punjab waters and for 10 days we gave our water to Rajasthan to save the people there from dying. We don't want to make a political issue of it; it is a question of survival. The genesis of this is the Anandpur Sahib Resolution [of 1973]. The principal thing in it was water and that triggered off the trouble in Punjab at a time when tube wells were still working: 35,000 people died in that period. And who was there to egg them on? Our neighbour, Pakistan. It could become a flashpoint again. So in the larger interest of the country, we should find a solution. The Modi government has brought in some regulations to ban the selling and slaughter of cows. Some State governments have objected to it, saying it's an infringement of their powers. It's a matter in various high courts. My sense is they will be clubbed together and sent to the Supreme Court eventually. In Punjab, we don't comment because we are not a beef-eating State. It's not a problem for us. But if you ask me personally, it's everyone's right what to eat, whether it's in south India or northeast India, it's their business. I think Jaitley has himself commented on this, saying that personal food habits are their business. For the Congress, Punjab was the only bright spot in the recent Assembly elections. Can the Congress be revived nationally? The BJP, too, had once gone down to two seats. Then, with V.P. Singh, the whole pattern changed to caste-based politics, the regional parties came up. Maybe one may have to have understandings [with other parties]. But the Congress has been around for more than 120 years, and has five to 50 people in every village. There will be ups and downs in politics: we'll bounce back. You are one of the few Congress leaders willing to call a spade a spade in public. Why don't senior leaders collectively tell vice-president Rahul Gandhi what's wrong with the party? [In my last meeting with] Rahul, we had an open chat for about 45 minutes on various things, not just Punjab, other States too… Both of us called a spade a spade. Do you think the coming together of the Opposition parties is enough? Doesn't it need a leader and a clear message? First, the Congress must make up its mind what it wants to do and eventually a decision will be taken. I think like-minded parties, secular forces must come together. We can't go back to the 1950s. That time the Congress was different, the concept of the country was different: now we have to make our place within the framework of what exists. Will Rahul Gandhi take over as Congress president this year? He will make a very good president. In the last three years, I have interacted with him very closely on various subjects. He is very flexible-minded, very supportive. So I am very happy with that. Sonia Gandhi's era is over then? No, I hope not, I hope not. I hope she stays. I have worked with her since she took over the Congress in 1998: she made me Punjab president that year. And she's a very, very good manager. And she has learnt over the years. Let me give you an example. She said make your team, so I made my team. She said, who's this, who's this? I had to explain why I had made someone general secretary, etc. Next year was the parliamentary elections: she said we need to make some revision of your team, depending on how people have performed. So when I went and I said, let's get A to do this, she said A has done this, why not B, C has also been very good. In one year, she had come to know everything about my State. And if she knows everything about my State, she knows about the other States too. She has a very retentive memory. And I found once she gives you a job, she is convinced you are right for the job, she will give you full backing. That's with Rahul also. Whatever decision we have taken, he stands by it totally. You knew Rajiv Gandhi very well. What's the difference between Rajiv and Rahul Gandhi? He was six months my junior in school, but we were very good friends. Their natures are different but otherwise they are the same. I went to the Army, he went into flying. So when I would come to Delhi sometimes, I would go to see them. It was different talk. When Sanjay died, and he (Rajiv) decided to fight from Amethi, he divided it into four, he gave me one segment. So I stayed for two months in Amethi. The first day he came for a meeting, he gave me a chit the size of your phone with four lines, and I said, what's this? So he said, sit behind me and if I forget, prod me with the lines. Two years later, I heard him addressing the United Nations, totally transformed. Situations make the transformation. And Rahul is also the same. I have heard him speak. He speaks well. People may call him all sorts of names to try to denigrate him. That is one way of trying to demolish the leadership in today's India. But he's coming up very well. You have written very persuasively in defence of Major Leetul Gogoi, and talked of the "split-second decision" he must have taken to save lives. As a former Army officer, you may argue that he did a difficult job and should not be punished, but did he deserve to be rewarded? Absolutely… on the spur of the moment, he took a decision. And there were no casualties. We should give him a pat on the back. While this may be appreciated within the Army, surely it has a code of conduct which this transgresses? Bringing peace is not the job of the Army. This is the job of the BJP government in Delhi and of Mehbooba [Mufti]'s in Kashmir. They should get together and bring peace. The Army only reacts to situations. Sit across the table and resolve matters, see what the youth is angry about, create schools, colleges, jobs, and then we won't need Major Gogoi. Till such time, India has to be protected; Kashmir is an Indian State. Every day we are losing Indian soldiers. How many more are we going to lose? And that country next door is prodding it on. You can bring them to the negotiating table in a bilateral way with Pakistan to cool them down. This is your State, you have to deal with it. Not only that, you also have to deal with the Naxal problem. Our solution is not to kill everyone off.

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