Manthan 2021 Exclusive: Captain Amarinder Singh on severing ties with Congress, likely alliance with BJP for 2022 Punjab Assembly polls

In Punjab Conclave 2021 of News24, Captain Amarinder Singh said he wants to remove both Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) from Punjab politics.

Chandigarh: Months ahead of the Assembly elections, the stage is set for an exciting political battle in Punjab – a state which recently saw Captain Amarinder Singh stepping down as the Chief Minister, severing ties with the Congress party and announcing his new political party ‘Punjab Lok Congress’.

In the meantime, News24 organized Punjab Conclave 2021 to gauge the mood of the poll bound state. In the event, many dignitaries associated with Punjab politics and representatives of various political parties and other senior political analysts participated. Former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh also took part in the event.

Anurradha Prasad, Chief In-Editor of News 24, questioned Captain Amarinder Singh about his decision to exit the Congress party and his strategy for the upcoming Assembly polls.

Let us see what Captain Amarinder Singh said:

Anurradha Prasad – My first question is that you have such a huge stature, then at this point can it be said that you have to start politics from the scratch?

Captain Amarinder Singh – I think this is a simple question. When you are in a party and the party tells you that this is it, you may leave now, and I understand that I am not ready to go now, then what should I do? When the party does not want me to stay, then naturally I have to form a new party because I want to spend all the years I have for Punjab and the country. I am not ready to retire.

Anurradha Prasad – During the last elections, you told me in an interview that, ‘I am only asking for five years. I have told my high command that give me only five years, after that I will retire from politics as I will be 80 by then.’ Then what happened?

Captain Amarinder Singh – What I told you, I said the same thing to Congress president. Four-five weeks before I left the party, I met Sonia Gandhi and told her that I want to leave the party now and not after the (Assembly) election. The reason I gave was that Sidhu (Navjot Singh Sidhu) and I can’t work together and everything will be destroyed in the process… She said ‘no’ to me and asked me to stay on. But then they called CLP meeting behind my back and started doing the things which I already knew. At 10 am she called me and said that, ‘Amarinder you should resign’. I said sure ma’am, I already offered my resignation to you week back. So, I called Governor asking him to give me time so that I can tender my resignation.

You should ask this to the Congress president that whether I asked her or not that let me contest this election and after I get the party elected, then I will resign from my (Chief Minister) seat. Then you can make whosoever you want the Chief Minister, I have had enough and it’s time now that one should also think of hanging up your boots. I said this to her six-seven months back. Then what was the need to do it now and that too like this? Then I thought if this is the case, then we will fight.

Anurradha Prasad – Don’t you think that the political stature that you had, the respect you got, you could have said that you will resign, it’s okay, but you stay in the party? Don’t you think your position in the party would have elevated?

Captain Amarinder Singh – Then what should I do in the party? I mean I need to have a work in the party. What is there in just sitting idle on the chair in the party. Should I make G-23 to G-24? I had no intention of doing that.

Anurradha Prasad – But how did you thought that if the party will contest the 2022 elections under your leadership, then it will win? How you believed in it?

Captain Amarinder Singh – I think you can see the (poll) surveys that have been coming. You can see your survey. Ever since I have entered, I helped the party win eight out of 13 Parliament seats… we won all the municipalities, we won four of five Assembly seats on which by-polls were held. Everything is on the winning spree. If you are winning, then why is this change needed?

Anurradha Prasad – Then what personal problem did Sidhu have with you?

Captain Amarinder Singh – This is not the problem of Sidhu, but of leadership. Why does the leadership wants Sidhu in? Who is Sidhu? For 14-15 years he was in the BJP, and you could have seen what all dramas he did there. And, suddenly you want to make him PCC president. For what purpose?

Anurradha Prasad – Sidhu said that he is the state president of the party and he blamed you saying that the chief minister is being arbitrary. Few MLAs even accused you for not working for the party and were being more individualistic. Why did such things come up?

Captain Amarinder Singh – Ever since I have entered politics, from 2002-2007 our government was there. We lost in 2007 because seats were not allotted properly… That is not the way to contest elections. This time, they gave the seats which I asked for and then we won 77 seats. Point is that sometimes ones who are on field understand things better than people sitting in offices in Delhi. This is what I told them (during last Assembly election) and we won. The same happened during Lok Sabha polls. There we won eight seats out of 13 (in Punjab).

That is why I said to them that poll surveys are showing that we are winning and let me do it, but then there thinking was different. They felt that Sidhu should lead the party and let us see what Sidhu does.

Anurradha Prasad – Now what next for Captain Amarinder Singh? You have got your party registered, when will you get symbol for it?

Captain Amarinder Singh – What I have been told by our lawyers, it takes three weeks to get your (party) name approved and six weeks for the symbol. So, we will wait for that.

Anurradha Prasad – But, you have less time to contest the polls.

Captain Amarinder Singh – In 1980, there was an advocate general here, he was from Akali Dal and I was contesting from Congress seat. He was given the ticket four months in advance, while I got it only 14 days before polls. Later, I defeated him by 1,50,000 votes. Same was the case here. What happened in Amritsar? I was given only few days, but we won. So, these things happen. It’s not about time, this is a question of what people’s perception is. Today, I have just launched our membership drive. People from all districts came for that.

Anurradha Prasad – Don’t you feel that age will be a factor?

Captain Amarinder Singh – Prakash Singh Badal is 96-years-old. Morarji Desai was 92 as Prime Minister. If I am 79, is that a problem?

Anurradha Prasad – People are saying that Captain is close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, and you are doing politics in their way?

Captain Amarinder Singh – This is a total misconception. When somebody becomes a chief minister, you cannot run particularly when you are in the Opposition. When Manmohan Singh-led government was there, things were different. Now there is an Opposition government for me. I was a Chief Minister from Congress and they were in BJP-led government. Now nothing can be done without the (Central) government… So, if I have a problem on national security, who do I meet? I don’t go and meet the Agriculture Minister, I obviously go and meet the Union Home Minister. I met the NSA also. One or two times I also called on the Prime Minister, that was on separate issue. But this was on issues which involved the state. I have to go.

Now, I am not the Health Minister, but I had to go and meet the Union Health Minister as we didn’t have enough COVID-19 vaccine doses. So, these things have to be done, otherwise, how will get the COVID-19 for Punjab?

Anurradha Prasad – Now, people want to know whether Captain Amarinder Singh’s party will form an alliance with the BJP?

Captain Amarinder Singh – Since a long time, we have been saying this that once the farmer issue is over we will have seat adjustment with the BJP.

Anurradha Prasad – So, will you be the face of BJP?

Captain Amarinder Singh – Ask them this, I am the face of my party.

Anurradha Prasad – Would you like to be the face of BJP?

Captain Amarinder Singh – I did not say that I am joining the BJP. I have said our party is separate and BJP is separate. We are going to have seat adjustments.

Anurradha Prasad – How confident are you that the farmers’ agitation will end before the Assembly election and you will play a key role in that?

Captain Amarinder Singh – I can’t say this. I am not playing any role in the farmers protest. Let me make it very clear. The farmers have said that they will not talk to any political party or institution. They are talking with the Government of India directly. My job was to go to the Home Minister and tell him that this is necessary now that you should finish this because there were other problems and those problems could have escalated. Because of that, there could have been a lot of disturbance in Punjab, which I didn’t want. I have seen Punjab before and after Blue Star. 35,000 people died. After that they wanted to bring this water bill. I had to cancel it and I nearly lost my job in that.

As far as farmers were concerned, it was my duty as chief minister to tell the Home Minister what all can be done.

Anurradha Prasad – Sidhu alleged that the Captain did not take any decision in the matter of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib and in the matter of drugs, you didn’t do anything that will bring this issue to an end. In fact, you were accused of having close bond with the Badals, you did not take any action against them, and didn’t even bring up their files.

Captain Amarinder Singh – There are four cases… Badals sent it to CBI. I went to the High Court to get that case back, but we lost. Then I won the matter in Supreme Court. It took months to get the cases back. We got it back in March this year. Since then, in the last seven months we created four SITs. Three of those cases are today in court.

As far as the matter of drugs is concerned, I got 65,000 people in jail because of it. When I left (as CM), the number came down to 43,000 as some were out on bail. Six people were identified by us, then we got in touch with central agencies. Two people, who were called big fish, was brought back from Spain and Georgia. One is in a jail in Hong Kong, talks are going on between Government of India and China on it. One of them is trapped in Armenia, while another is in custody in Rome. But the problem is that there is so much drugs coming in. We seized 700 kg drugs from Kandla Port. Drugs are coming from Uri, where we have Army. From various parts it comes to Punjab. As there is money in Punjab, so it becomes your objective.

Anurradha Prasad – You did so many things, so were you not able to communicate this to the people? Leave people, you were not able to communicate this within your party.

Captain Amarinder Singh – We informed everything. Who does not know this in the party? Tell me one.

Anurradha Prasad – Now there is a new Chief Minister, Channi, and soon after coming to power he is taking a lot of decisions.

Captain Amarinder Singh – Understand one thing how governments work. Governments work in a very different manner. If I want to do something today – you make out a scheme, it goes through various ministers and it takes four to six months before you can implement it. Whatever is being implemented today was decided three-four months ago.

Do you know what the finances of Punjab are? GSDP of Punjab is 5 crore 5 lakh 35 thousand crore. You have borrowed so far three lakh (crore) to your government earning and one lakh crore for your electricity board and other cooperation. So, 75 per cent of your GSDP you have borrowed. You have created debt for all these people to pay for the next 30 years.

Anurradha Prasad – But Channi has become CM recently. If this much borrowing has been done, then that includes your tenure also.

Captain Amarinder Singh – Everybody’s role is there. When my past government was there, we had Rs 30,000 crore, now it is four lakh crore. Channi in the last three weeks has borrowed another Rs 20,000 crore to pay. All those have been paid for various things, but is it going to happen?

Take power, what is the power requirement of Punjab? This time in July there were no rains. Water level went down in dams, including Bhakra. Our requirement in July was 15,000 MW. My ability to transmit from the national grid is only 7,000 MW. I don’t have transmission capacity. Now what do I have? Now I only had two units.

Anurradha Prasad – But that power was also increased during Badal’s time. You could have increased it further, but you did not do that.

Captain Amarinder Singh – Yes we have increased it. I was Power Minister also. We have put 16 thousand kilometers of new power lines, we have made 200 power sub stations, you cannot do it overnight. Where do these things come from? We are already giving power subsidy of 9 thousand crores to the farmers. Now, they are adding another 4,000 (crore) in it by giving Rs 3 per unit. From where will Punjab get that money?

Anurradha Prasad – Arvind Kejriwal is saying that he will give power (electricity) for free, how will that be done?

Captain Amarinder Singh – Kejriwal is cross-subsidising. You know what he does? Delhi is a trading city. He increases it for the traders and lowers it down for others. That’s what he does.

Anurradha Prasad – But somewhere these things matter in order to lure people.

Captain Amarinder Singh – Let him step into the field, I will also do the same. Then we will see what happens in March.

Anurradha Prasad – Channi has been projected as a Dalit leader.

Captain Amarinder Singh – Firstly, I want to stop this here to say that I don’t believe in this business of Sikhs or Backward Castes or Hindus or Muslims. We are Punjabis. No everyone is saying that Channi has taken over as first Dalit leader. He is not a Dalit leader, he is a capable man. He has been my minister… He was a good man and a good minister. I have no problem with him. So, he has got this job because of his capability, not because he is a Dalit. I don’t think we should bring this business into India. India must grow out of this.

Anurradha Prasad – You are speaking good about him, but leaders from your former party had said that we will remove Captain and bring in a Dalit face.

Captain Amarinder Singh – Channi wasn’t even the candidate. Channi emerged as a compromised candidate. Candidates were others whom I chose and they went against me, but this is part of life. The fact is that he came in as a compromise. He was not earmarked to become one and I think they made a right choice.

Anurradha Prasad – Do you appreciate his capability?

Captain Amarinder Singh – All my ministers were good. There was just one who was not good. I removed him.

Anurradha Prasad – Why do you have rivalry with Sidhu?

Captain Amarinder Singh – Who was the Power Minister? Sidhu. I offered the post to him. Before that, he was the Minister of Local Self Government. Most of the Congress votes come from cities. If you will note file any approval for seven months, then who is affected? The Congress party in the cities. So, I told him that you are not clearing the files for seven months. Therefore, this is not up to it, you better go and take over power. He said, no sir I don’t want it. Then you stay out.

Anurradha Prasad – But now Sidhu has praised you and said that it was Captain who waived off loans.

Captain Amarinder Singh – Sidhu says something in the morning, and something else in the evening… Nobody knows what he does.

Anurradha Prasad – Will you support the Akalis if need arises?

Captain Amarinder Singh – No. We have made it absolutely clear, we will wait for the BJP to resolve this issue of the farmers and then we will do it (form an alliance) with them.

Anurradha Prasad – What about Congress? (forming alliance with Congress)

Captain Amarinder Singh – Do you think so? Seven times I have been elected to Vidhan Sabha, two times in Parliament. Do you think I don’t know how co-relations are made and co-relations are not broken. They (Congress) don’t want me, why do I want them.

Anurradha Prasad – But possibilities in politics cannot be ruled out.

Captain Amarinder Singh – Why do you think BJP and we will not win, we won’t need them.

Anurradha Prasad – In Punjab politics, do you want to eliminate Congress or Akalis?

Captain Amarinder Singh – Both.

Anurradha Prasad – But doing this seems little difficult.

Captain Amarinder Singh – Only one party can form government (in Punjab). That will be ours, which is a combination of us and the BJP and those with them.

Anurradha Prasad – Do you have good relations with the local BJP leaders?

Captain Amarinder Singh – I have no dealings with the locals here because I have never done it. Firstly, it is the decision of the BJP at the national level whether they want to do it (form an alliance) with us or not. If they want to do it, then I have openly told them that we are willing to work with you.

Anurradha Prasad – So, have the talks between you and BJP’s national leaders moved ahead?

Captain Amarinder Singh – Once the talks are over with them at the national level, then will meet all the local leaders here.

Anurradha Prasad – But BJP leaders are not able to enter villages as farmers are stopping them. Without farmers support here how will you move forward?

Captain Amarinder Singh – These things happen. Sometimes when situations come, then it does not take much time to change it. If you may recall, nobody wanted to talk to the Akalis during the Blue Star… The moment this was happened in 1984 June, in 1985 Akali Dal was voted to power. After that, nobody wanted to bother Congress. But after one year, Beant Singh government was formed. So, these things happen. You shouldn’t overrule anything in politics, except I will not do it with Congress.

Anurradha Prasad – AAP and Akalis have alleged that Captain Amarinder Singh was the Chief Minister, but never used to meet people. Why such talks came up?

Captain Amarinder Singh – I became the Chief Minister in 2017. Lok Sabha elections were held in 2019. How did we win eight out of 13 seats if I did not meet people? How come I won other local elections if I did not meet people? Something is wrong, you cannot assess it this way.

Anurradha Prasad – Most of the people say that leaders cannot stay in Congress without power, be it (Jyotiraditya) Scindia or anyone else. How do you see this?

Captain Amarinder Singh – I was in the Army for nine years… My brother was also in the Army. Somebody had to leave, so I left. My mother told me to enter politics. So, I said who is going to teach me? So, she sent Bhagwant Singh, who is Sidhu’s father. I told my political training from him… Now once you come to politics then it becomes very difficult to get out because you make so many friends and you have to stand by your friends. Today, I called people from 27 districts for our membership drive and there was no place in my house. So, these are things that happen and I have no regret and I will carry on to do what I am doing till such time I find I can’t do it anymore. When there is time to hang up my sword, I will hang up my sword. At the moment, it is very essential that I remain.

I understand security. I have been in uniform for nine years and I have been nine-and-a-half years as Home Minister of Punjab. Whatever is happening today, the tie-up of Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, I as a Home Minister and Chief Minister know how much weaponry is coming here… Since June last year, we started getting drones. Two drones were caught before I left. One at 30 kms and another at 31 kms, and BSF can operate upto 15 kms. Is it not the matter of national security?

Anurradha Prasad – But now BSF jurisdiction has been extended to 50 kms.

Captain Amarinder Singh – When Army came in during that period of terrorism, they only did outer cordoning. Inner cordoning was done by the CRPF and the action was by Punjab Police. Here also this can happen… It’s not only in Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir are also doing it. What is the issue in it?

Anurradha Prasad – Are you extremely hurt?

Captain Amarinder Singh – I am not hurt, I am interested in my state and my country and if they tell me that now enough is enough, you go, then where do I go? I’ll create my own avenue to operate through for my state and my country.

first published:Nov. 20, 2021, 9:05 p.m.

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