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September 4, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ Capt Amarinder Singh

'The 1984 anti-Sikh riot is part of history now'

I n a tape-recorded interview, Captain Amarinder Singh, former classmate of Rajiv Gandhi goes out of his way to praise Sonia Gandhi for what she has done for the revival of the Congress party and deems it fit that in the present state of affairs, she is the best candidate for the office of the prime minister.

According to him the Congress party would make major gains in Punjab. "In fact we are going to sweep the polls in the state. Take it from me, the Congress is going to form the government after the polls," he told Onkar Singh.

What are the Congress party's chances in Punjab? According to some news reports you have been predicting a clean sweep for your party. Is that true?

Of course the Congress party is going to sweep polls in Punjab. Haven't you seen the big rallies that we have been holding in the state? Five years ago such rallies were unthinkable. Sikhs from Punjab are coming and attending our election meetings in big numbers.

Do you mean they have have forgotten anti-Sikh riots of 1984?

Nobody talks about the 1984 riots anymore. It is part of history. You cannot carry on '84 forever. The people of Punjab now want to move on. We cannot live in the past forever. This is evident from the support we are getting from the masses.

The incidents of 1984 moved you so much that you resigned from the Congress party and joined the Akali Dal. Now you are back in the Congress party. Why?

My coming back to Congress does not mean that my feelings have changed. I left the Akali Dal in 1986 when Surjeet Singh Barnala ordered operation Black Thunder to flush out militants from Golden Temple. These incidents are all part of my life. But this does not mean that you do not move on. Life is like this and you got to move on irrespective of what happens around you.

What according to you, are the issues which are swinging the people back to the Congress party?

There are many factors. Let us take the negative factors first. Non-performance of the Badal government is sending most of their voters to the Congress camp. Then there is a division in the Akalis. There are too many Akali Dals. This automatically demoralises the Akali supporters.

On the positive side the people of Punjab realise that the Akalis would not be able to provide them with a stable government. They know that the Congress party alone can provide them with leadership. They know that the future of the state would be safe in a Congress regime.

Badal and his alliance partner the BJP have been harping on Sonia's foreign origin. Is it a factor in Punjab?

Badal can say what he likes, but who cares? India is a big country and has a centuries-old traditions. The fact of the matter is that ever since Sonia has taken over as the chief of the Congress party, we have won elections in some of the key states. We have won Goa, we have won in Rajasthan, Delhi, Adampur in Punjab. This means that the country has accepted her. If they had not, they would not have voted for us.

Badal is a short-sighted man. He cannot look beyond. Today Indians are holding key positions in some of the foreign nations. Our people are becoming leaders in Singapore, Fiji. They are involved in local governments in Canada and England, Germany. What is Badal trying to say, just because you were not born there, you should not take part in the politics of those countries where they are now living as citizens?

Look at Madeleine Albright, she was not born in USA. But she is the American Secretary of State. America is different because in America you cannot make a non-American president of USA. But Britain and Canada do not have such provisions. If you are capable you are bound to make it to the top.

If a Pakistani woman were to occupy the same position as Sonia Gandhi, will you allow her to become the prime minister of India?

Why not! Let her become the prime minister. So long as she has Indian citizenship, she accepts the Indian system and wants to participate in the Indian political system, let her go ahead. Eventually, it is for the Indian people to decide whether to accept her or reject her.

What was the response of the people when Sonia came to the state for campaigning?

You had to be there to see what kind of response she got when she visited the state. There were huge crowds in Moga, Patiala and Ludhiana. The crowd was enthusiastic and they heard her with attention. At two 'O clock in the afternoon the people were braving the sun to hear her. This is a clear signal of support to the Congress party.

You have given the Congress ticket to your wife Parneet Kaur, Maharani of Patiala. Why didn't you contest yourself?

I am at the moment president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee and my job is to ensure that the party wins elections in the entire state and not just in Patiala. Why is the candidate? Because she was the best candidate we had in Patiala. Because she is contesting from here, I did not have to spend much time on campaigning in Patiala. I cannot afford to lose in Patiala because it is my home seat. And I am confident that she is going to win the elections from this place.

The Akalis call you a drawing room politician.

I don't know who among the Akalis says this. I have got the Congress party on top once again. If this is not politics then I do not know what active politics means.

So you say the Congress is on the comeback trail?

One hundred per cent. We are going to sweep the polls in Punjab. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And if we win the polls in Punjab then it surely indicates that we have revived the Congress party in the state. I have been able to do that. Don't forget the fact that we were completely wiped out from the state two years ago. I took over in July last year and by December we had won the Adampur assembly elections.

This time the people have shown that they go by the name of the party and they would return the Congress party with a thumping majority.

Do you foresee the fall of the Badal government?

Of course Badal will have to go once the Congress party sweeps the polls in Punjab. Badal has mismanaged the entire state so badly that there is no money to pay the salaries of the state government employees. We have provisions in the Constitution to declare a fiscal emergency. We would want to go back to the people, get a fresh mandate and start putting the state back on the rails.

Poll predictions say the BJP and allies are coming back to power?

I don't agree with the media reports. I think they are highly biased. The media has been favouring BJP. I am sure the Congress is going to form the next government. Even Star TV has admitted that things are changing fast and they might change drastically in the weeks to come. You wait and watch, the Congress is going to come back to power.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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