‘Jaitley is running around like a rabbit with its tail cut off’

Face to Face: Amarinder Singh
Sadiq Naqvi Amritsar

Former chief minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh, who is fighting from Amritsar, believes the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal’s abysmal track record will result in huge gains for Congress in the upcoming Parliament polls. Buzzing with energy even at 72, Singh spoke to Hardnews on the surprise that Punjab will throw up in the results. Edited excerpts

What do you think about the Modi wave?

I don’t know about the rest of the country but certainly in Punjab, there is no Modi wave. Six months ago there was a great hype around Modi. Now even that hype is gone.

Even in Punjab?

No, Punjab never had it. Here there is no anti-incumbency against the Centre. Rather, there is a severe anti-incumbency factor against the current state government. It overrides everything. In Modi’s case, from the last six months to now there has been a sharp decline in his popularity all over the country.

Modi may have been a good chief minister but that doesn’t mean he will be a good prime minister. The nation has so many problems. The biggest problem is unemployment, because the population is ever expanding. You have to have a forward-looking Prime Minister. Modi’s style of functioning is a little better than [Parkash Singh] Badal’s style of functioning. But it is still retrograde. It is not forward thinking. Rahul Gandhi offers a progressive looking option. Imagine India 25 years down the line. That’s how it should be.  

Modi recently attacked you as well, saying you have foreign bank accounts etc…

That is interesting. Sitting in Barmer, in the middle of the desert, he suddenly remembers Amrinder Singh. And why does he remember Amarinder Singh? because Arun Jaitley must have told him to prolong this matter. Jaitley’s own position has slipped and it is going downhill and I think he wanted it. Let the press investigate.

Why do you think the BJP had to change their three times winning candidate in Amritsar. Was he unpopular?

I think it was an absolute mistake on their part. But it is good for me. Navjot Singh Sidhu was a well-liked MP, but today the BJP is sharply divided between the pro- and anti-Sidhu factions. Many had wanted Sidhu to come and contest, so I feel by bringing in Jaitley, they have committed a serious blunder.

You also seemed to be reluctant to come to Amritsar and contest…

I don’t know why people are calling me a reluctant candidate. I was never reluctant. When I went to see the Congress president six-eight weeks ago, she asked me if I would like to fight the elections. I said ‘No Madam, Preneet is already contesting from Patiala, she is a good MP, leave her there.’ But she asked what about Amritsar. I said I have already been a chief minister for 16 years, and also been the Congress president in Punjab. I could contribute more by campaigning in all 13 seats. She said she would think it over, and three weeks later, she called to ask if I would fight for her in Amritsar. I said, of course, I will fight. Now this is not reluctance. I was giving my opinion that I felt it was better if I campaigned in the state.

Do you think the campaign is suffering because your energies are concentrated in Amritsar?

No, the party high command has chosen good candidates and everyone is holding their position very well. You will see a big surprise from Punjab. Before the candidates were announced, the surveys were giving us eight out of 13 seats. Now it will be more than eight.

What are the major issues in Punjab?

There is a non-government. There is completely zero performance. The state is bankrupt. The Reserve Bank of India has issued instructions that no more overdrafts are to be given to the state government. The staff have not been paid for six months. What is working in this government? Whatever little money there is, this man, in an antediluvian fashion, the old chief minister, has sangat darshan, and starts doling out cash to people. He is living in the last century, or the century before last. He is a very retrograde chief minister. It’s a pity for the state to have such a man as chief minister.

Coming back to Amritsar, the impression is that it was the Badals who requested Jaitley to contest from here. Why?

When I told the Congress President that I could be more effectively used all across Punjab, and not for just one seat, the message got leaked out and Jaitley suddenly said he would fight Amritsar. The Badals apparently told Jaitley ‘don’t worry, just sign the papers and we’ll do the rest’. Now Jaitley is running around like a rabbit with its tail cut off.

Is there a problem with transition in the Congress, between the old and the new guard?

No, I don’t think so. Any party, including the Congress, have to have a mixture of both. Now in that process some people may be pushed aside. I think Rahul is trying to do his best to choose a team which encompasses both. I don’t think there is any feeling of old guard versus the new guard. It is just an evolutionary process where both are being meshed into each other.