Cover Story:‘SAD vote share is broadbased and will stand the test of time’

Pic Badal 2
Sukhbir Singh Badal/ 54 Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab

In his first ever interview with Tehelka, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, tells Gurvinder Kaur that Navjot Singh Sidhu’s new organisation will not affect the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) vote bank. Sukhbir is at his vitriolic best against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who he says is an anarchist and dangerous for Punjab. He also accuses Kejriwal of hobnobbing with former Naxals and radical Sikh elements and asserts that he is asking the Union Home Ministry to verify all AAP donations from abroad. He also avers that his father Parkash Singh Badal will be the chief ministerial candidate and that the SAD-BJP combine will form the government for the third time running in 2017.

Edited Excerpts from the interview •

Politics in Punjab is churning by the day and a new combination led by Navjot Sidhu is now emerging as a potent force. There is talk that since leaders of this new front Awaaz-e-Punjab were earlier aligned with the SAD-BJP combine, they will dent your votes.

See, there is always a mathematical calculation. This is the job of analysts. But as far as we are concerned, we believe in a more grounded reality. This is based on the pulse of the people. Mr Navjot Sidhu lost credibility after he first negotiated with AAP and then the Congress. Frustrated at not being appointed the chief ministerial candidate by AAP and not getting what he desired from the Congress, he has come out with this front. This front basically comprises of two professional agitationists — the Bains brothers (Simarjeet and Balwinder) whom no one wants to touch with a bargepole and Pargat Singh who, having lost touch with his constituents, has joined this group hoping for a revival of his fortunes. How can this band of disparate leaders make a dent in the SAD vote share which is broad-based and has stood the test of time? The 2017 elections will witness an increase in our

vote share.

On what criteria do you base this assertion?

On performance alone. We have ushered in massive development in the last nine years. Be it making Punjab power surplus, new airports, massive road infrastructure spending money on rural development or improving facilities in towns and cities — we have done it all. We have catered to each and every section of society. People have witnessed a positive change and will reciprocate appropriately at the hustings.

The last two years have witnessed the mushrooming of the AAP phenomenon in Punjab even though the party has suffered a few setbacks in recent months. However, the party is still able to draw crowds as witnessed at Moga on 11 September during the launch of the party’s manifesto for farmers. There is a perception that it continues to be your main challenger.

AAP did do well in the last Lok Sabha elections in Punjab but this performance is destined to be a one-time affair. Punjabis like to test new things and reposed part-faith in the new party. However, over the last two years, this faith has been betrayed and they have become disillusioned with AAP. The party has proved to be anti-farmer by taking Haryana’s side on the SYL canal in the Supreme Court. It has proved to be anti-Punjabi, with its legislators being accused of flaring communal tensions in the state. It has shown it is anti-Sikh, with its leader comparing a party manifesto with the Guru Granth Sahab ji. Recently, it has also proven it has no respect for women with its own legislator Col Devinder Sehrawat accusing senior leaders of exploiting women. Today the situation is such that Punjabis want to get rid of these outsiders who want to rule over them. A one-time rally of a few thousand people which was organised in Moga recently will not have any effect on the final outcome of AAP in Punjab. The party will be routed in the 2017 elections and will face the same fate as that of the People’s Party of Punjab headed by Manpreet Badal in 2012.

‘I am convinced the 2017 fight will be between the SAD-BJP alliance and the Congress. AAP will disintegrate by then’

So if AAP is not your main challenger, who is?

I am convinced the 2017 fight will be between the SAD-BJP alliance and the Congress. AAP as a party and an organisation will virtually disintegrate by then. Already we are seeing erosion in the AAP support base with its state convenor Suchha Singh Chottepur rebelling against it along with a large number of zonal in-charges.

But Arvind Kejriwal’s name still carries resonance in Punjab.

I don’t see the resonance any longer. In fact, his own party workers have started hating him because of his arrogant and autocratic nature. Also Kejriwal’s decision not to project any Sikh leader as a potential chief ministerial candidate in Punjab

has alienated the top brass. The workers of the party also feel humiliated that outsiders from Delhi and Uttar Pradesh are bossing over Punjabis in the AAP state unit.

There is also a strong rumour of Kejriwal being projected as the CM candidate at the last minute.

Credence has been lent to these claims after former AAP state convenor Chottepur made similar disclosures. This is natural because Kejriwal feels stifled in Delhi where he is the head of a glorified municipal corporation. He desperately wants to have control over a state to take on PM Narendra Modi. He is treating Punjab as a battleground to take on the PM.

But why do you say this? He is, in fact, announcing massive sops, including 25 lakh jobs for youth and implementation of the Swaminathan report, which will ensure a 50 percent profit to farmers for their wheat and paddy crops.

See, this is the hypocrisy of this man. Have you checked his track record in Delhi? He promised five lakh jobs but has not been able to create even a few thousand. If one is to believe his tall claims, he will have to give a job every minute for five years in Punjab to keep his promise of creating 25 lakh jobs. Similarly, he has not shared his plan as to how he will implement the Swaminathan report. From where will get the thousands of crores needed for this task, especially when he will be in confrontation with the Centre? Forget implementation of the Swaminathan report, there is a real likelihood of wheat and paddy not being procured in Punjab if an AAP government is ever formed here.

How then do you assess Kejriwal?

Kejriwal is an out-and-out anarchist who is dangerous for Punjab. Forget outlandish promises to befool the people, he has even played with fire by making common cause with radicals. It is because of this that former Naxals and radical Sikh elements have become his most ardent supporters. One of his legislators stands accused of being hand-in-glove in desecrating the holy Koran in Malerkotla. Another — Jarnail Singh — shared a stage with Khalistanis in London.

Are you taking any action in this regard?

We are requesting the Union Home Minister to get all funds coming into AAP coffers from abroad verified thoroughly. Punjab is a border state and we do not want any anti-national agencies to fund elements via AAP for their hidden objective of disrupting the hard-won peace .

‘We are requesting the Union Home Minister to get all funds coming into AAP coffers from abroad verified thoroughly’

Coming to your ‘main’ challenger — the Congress and Captain Amarinder Singh. Do you think they are getting traction in Punjab this time around?

Well, as you have pointed out, this is a problem. People are not ready to come out and support the Congress. Many still remember the 2002-07 tenure of Amarinder, which can best be described as wasted years. Amarinder remained surrounded by sycophants and a coterie which enriched itself. There was a ban on recruitment. Excise revenue went down. The state was unable to add a single megawatt of power. Now, when Amarinder goes to the people and says he will do this or that, he faces outright cynicism. The Congress could do well to retire him before the people do that in 2017.

What about your own party? Who will be your chief ministerial candidate?

My father is heading the state ably and we will strive to make him CM again. He may be 88 but he sticks to a punishing routine even now and works much harder than those 20 years his junior. Even at this age he is able to work 12 hours at a stretch. Capt Amarinder cannot work for even a few hours without taking rest.

You have also been in the wings for long. When do you think it would be right for you to take over?

I am privileged to work under Parkash Singh Badal. Whatever little statecraft I have learnt is from him. Working under him is like going to Harvard and learning from the best. He is the best. Moreover, we complement each other. Our core strengths give much more teeth to governance. We will take this combination forward to 2017 also.

But there is talk of an anti-incumbency factor against the SAD-BJP combine…

I think this word anti-incumbency is lucky for us. Whenever the Opposition rakes up this word, we win. It happened in 2012. I would request you to go to the field and see if there is any real anti-incumbency against us, as is being claimed. In fact, it is the opposite. There is a pro-incumbency feeling because the people are happy. At present, there are no power cuts in Punjab, with the state being power surplus. There is visible development with a record number of new roads, bridges and flyovers being constructed across the state. Our commitment to social welfare has been rock solid.

What about governance? How successful have you been in changing people’s lives?

See, our government has focused on ensuring easy access to all services to the people in a corruption-free atmosphere. We earlier introduced a Right to Service Act, which ensures time-bound availability of services. We also created Sanjh Kendras across the state to ensure people could approach them to record their complaints as it was felt that most people are hesitant to approach police stations. Recently (12 August), we inaugurated Seva Kendras all over the state which provide more than 200 services to citizens through state-of-the-art modern offices. We have also taken other measures, including introduction of computerised tracks for issuing driving licences within 45 minutes. All these measures have removed corruption in the state.

Punjab CM meeting Public at Sangat Darshan program in Amritsar.
Comfort level: Chief Minister of Punjab Parkash Singh Badal, 88, still works 12 hours a day, making sure he stays in touch with the people

What about the industrial climate? What is your track record on bringing in new industry?

See, our track record can be judged from what the industry has to say about us. All leading industrialists, be it Mukesh Ambani, YS Deveshwar, GVK Reddy and Sunil Bharti Mittal. have lauded the manner in which we have been able to attract investment. The creation of Punjab Invest, a separate body responsible for clearing all new projects, has delivered results, with new projects being cleared within 35 days. Many companies have started work on their projects, including Infosys which is coming up with a facility in Mohali. ITC is coming up with a massive food park with an investment of 1,400 crore in Kapurthala. Name the company and it is setting up shop in Punjab. We have already announced that we will supply power at 4.99 per unit to all new industrial units as well as those expanding their current units. As this is the lowest in the country, it has evoked an immense response.

But there continue to be an issues on which you are taking a beating — like drugs, for instance.

If you analyse this matter, you will find that it is the Opposition — particularly Rahul Gandhi — giving a twist to this entire issue. Rahul wrongly quoted a survey to claim 70 percent of youth in Punjab are drug addicts. AAP is doing likewise.

The truth is that no drugs are manufactured in Punjab. The state is a transit point for drugs which come in from Pakistan. If the state had not taken the action it has, these drugs would have travelled to other parts of the country also. We should be applauded for our firmness in tackling this problem and ensuring action against more than 100 big smugglers, besides registering thousands of cases. In direct contrast, a state like Goa, which is a haven for drugs, registered around 50 cases under the NDPS Act last year.

Then what is the extent of the drug problem in Punjab?

Well if you were to take a definite report from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), only 1.2 per cent of the population is afflicted by this menace. There are other independent ways to check this issue. The army officially reported that it did not find any incidence of doping during tests conducted by it during recent army recruitment drives in Punjab. The government also got drug tests done on around five lakh youth who participated in the recent recruitment drive conducted by the Punjab Police. Only 1.5 percent candidates failed the drug test. The testing was done by an independent agency.

There is also talk of Punjab not getting any special package from the Centre despite being part of the ruling coalition.

Well, road projects worth 22,000 crore have been cleared by the Centre and are currently being executed. Punjab has also got an AIIMS from the Centre at Bathinda, besides an IIM at Amritsar. The IIT at Ropar has been upgraded from a

400 crore to a 800 crore institution. A new horticulture institute has been sanctioned for Amritsar, which has also been allocated funds to promote heritage tourism. So Punjab has got a lot from the Modi government.

In the coming election, what is your ballpark seat prediction for your alliance?

One can gauge the reaction of the people by looking into their eyes. Wherever I go, I see enthusiasm for our alliance and a commitment to bring us back to power. I am confident we will form the next government with a commanding majority of 90 seats (in a house of 117).

Also Read : AAP seems to be in turmoil as new front emerges in Punjab