Chandigarh: Former chief minister Amarinder Singh says the ruling Akali Dal is a “17th century” outfit that has done little for Punjab and that his Congress party will take the Badals, the state’s first family, to the cleaners in the assembly polls next year.
“We will certainly show the people what this (Badal) government has been. Complete deceit, people who are only interested in themselves and care a damn about Punjab,” Amarinder, 69, who is state president of the opposition Congress, said in an exclusive interview.
He said the state was in an economic mess and there was a growing Maoist presence due to flawed policies.
“We have a scenario of 2.72 crore of our population comprising 46 lakh families. Of this, 13 lakh are below the poverty line. Eight lakh families are antyodaya – the poorest of the poor. The Naxal (Maoist) problem is in all 20 districts.”
Mincing no words about the Akalis, of which he was a part for nearly a decade in the 1980s and 90s, Amarinder said: “Their outlook is old-fashioned and of the 17th century. The party is following a concept which is history now.”
His comment comes at a time when Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal is shouting from rooftops that his party will rule for the next 25 years. It has an alliance government with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Asked about Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir, Amarinder laughed and said: “Let me put it this way. The father appears genial, appears friendly, he is highly calculating and is what we call in Punjab as a ‘meesna’ (mean and wily).
“This fellow (Sukhbir) is more upfront. He is what we call ‘dabangg’. But he doesn’t have any depth. Neither does the father have any depth. This boy has the decision-making capacity, the father does not.
“He (Sukhbir) bites off more than he can chew. He is saying we have added 12,000 MW of power. They have not added even 1 MW.”
Amarinder is gearing up for next year’s elections to 117 assembly seats in February-March.
“We will win. Election is not going to be a problem because of the total non-performance and the bad reputation of this government.
“Secondly, people are comparing our five years and their five years. We did (terminated) the water agreement (with neighbouring states so Punjab could keep its water). We started mega projects which these guys (Badal government) killed. We started a major crop diversification programme which these guys killed,” he said.
Having become Punjab Congress president less than a year before the assembly polls, Amarinder says he is mobilising the party.
“For four years, the party had been fairly inactive. There hadn’t been any mass contact or people’s movement. I had big rallies in all 20 districts. People have heard what I had to say and now let me listen to what the workers have to say,” he said.
He had registered corruption cases against Parkash Singh Badal and his associates during his chief ministerial tenure from 2002 to 2007, but now believes: “I think we have wasted too much time on the Badals.
“We have to get on to tackling Punjab. Let the law take its course. If they have done some ‘gadbad’ (irregularity), let the departments do the inquiry and take necessary steps.”
Amarinder said: “Last time I had come into the government (as chief minister) for the first time. My background in the government was very limited. I had experience as a minister in 1985 for about six months. We are preparing beforehand now; we will implement things when we come to power.”
He accused the Akali Dal-BJP government of undoing many things done under his government.
“We went for Bt Cotton. Sprays went down from 28 to just three. The spraying is the primary cause of cancer in southern Punjab. Today you have one train going from Bathinda to Bikaner every day called the Cancer Express. It is a very sad thing.”
He also accused the state’s bureaucracy of having a poor work culture.
Amarinder said: “Punjab has got a very shoddy work culture. I am not talking about the common Punjabi or industrialists, farmers or others. I am talking about the bureaucracy and the functioning of the government.
“The bureaucracy, right from 1983 or 84, right through six years, these secretaries were (acting like) all ministers (during President’s Rule). I think they were all used to leaving office at lunch and going to play golf.
“Haryana doesn’t have this culture. Gujarat doesn’t have this culture. They are on the job all the time. Only Punjab has this culture and that is why we are suffering.” By Jaideep Sarin