'Public attraction towards Modi govt is waning'
Captain Amarinder Singh, deputy leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha and the former chief minister of Punjab believes that it is constitutionally wrong not to have a Leader of Opposition. In an interview with Kavita Chowdhury, he asserts that the Congress party is confident it will bounce back. Edited excerpts:
It is almost clear now that the Congress will not be getting the Leader of Opposition post. What is the next step for the party? How does it intend to establish itself as the main Opposition when it is just one among the many Opposition parties in the Lok Sabha?
There was no LoP between 1952 and 1964, but now there are statutory bodies such as the Central Vigilance Commission, Central Information Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, the Lokpal -- to appoint their chiefs you need an LoP on the committee. It's a constitutional requirement.
Along with Mallikarjun Kharge and Jyotiraditya Scindia, our chief whip, we met the Speaker and submitted a letter staking our claim to the LoP. It has been three weeks and she has been sitting over it. Yet, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi's opinion denying us the LoP post has been released to the press.
I think this is a wrong decision and it's not been taken according to the Constitution or by the Speaker. It has been taken right up to the prime minister, obviously. The Congress will take cognisance of this and take the necessary steps when we get a reply.
It is constitutionally wrong not to have an LoP. As for proving to be a strong Opposition, we are 60 MPs along with our United Progressive Alliance allies. We have been fighting it out on every issue. In the Rajya Sabha, we are stronger and have larger numbers there.
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Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets President Pranab Mukherjee duirng his oath taking ceremony in Rashtrapati Bhavan
'Congress is a responsible party. We don't boycott Parliament, like BJP, on every issue'
But the Congress seems to have failed to raise any major issue in a concrete manner. For instance, you took up the issue of snooping of ministers and then suddenly dropped it. And now, you have moved to the UPSC language row.
I don't think that is correct. The Congress has been the ruling party for a long time and we are a responsible party. It was the Bharatiya Janata Party that did not let Parliament run properly for two years. That isn't our strategy.
We get paid Rs 2,000 a day in Parliament, which is the taxpayers' money and we don't boycott Parliament on every issue. The BJP used to do that. Now that we are in Opposition, we raise important issues and even go into the well of the house on such issues. And it is not just the UPA -- the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and the Aam Aadmi Party have also been supporting us on various issues.
The Congress has been alleging that the government is devoid of any legislative issues but why is the party not raising any economic issues in Parliament?
The main issue has been rising food prices. For three days in Parliament, we raised the issue of the price of tomatoes -- that have touched Rs 120 a kg -- and steep price rise in potatoes and onions, which have made the common man's life difficult. The government is still in its honeymoon period and they have the backing of the corporates, but people's attraction towards this BJP government is waning.
We have raised the point about the insurance amendment Bill. We are not opposing it, but we have an issue with the new amendments that they have introduced. Therefore, we, and other Opposition parties, are demanding that this Bill should be sent to a select committee.
The assembly elections are coming up and already deep factionalism has beset state units in Haryana and Maharashtra, which are already affected by anti- incumbency. Has the Congress failed to utilise this as an opportunity to revive itself and make a comeback?
The recent victory of the Congress in all three seats in the Uttarakhand assembly bypolls, defeating the BJP, proves that things are improving for us. As for dissidence, it is there in all parties and when people vote, these things do not matter. We shall, hopefully, win the two assembly bypolls in Punjab as well. (Singh is campaigning for his wife and former union minister Preneet Kaur, who is contesting from his seat of Patiala).
Between now and March 2015, there are eight state elections, we are upbeat about bouncing back. In Haryana, for example, there is a lot of support for us in the Punjabi belt because of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee issue.
Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda had promised to give the Sikhs in Haryana a gurudwara Act in his manifesto and has fulfilled it. When Parkash Singh Badal had led an agitation to Delhi in 1971 for a separate Delhi gurudwara Act, that was deemed fine. But, it is not okay now if Haryana wants one. That is how two-faced he (Badal) is.
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Image: Senior Congress leader Captain Amarinder Singh
'Rahul lost his father, grandmother. He had every right to be upset, to fear his mother may face the same danger'
As one of the few veterans who contested and won their seat in the Lok Sabha polls, what in your opinion is the prescription for the Congress' revival?
I have been in politics for the past 47 years -- I have been the chief minister, Pradesh Congress Committee chief and I am known for my credible image. So, all that counted. As for the Congress, in 1977, we were wiped out of the government, Indira Gandhi lost her seat, Sanjay Gandhi lost, everybody in north India lost their seat except Karan Singh, but we bounced back.
Within two years, (Mrs) Gandhi was the prime minister again. The Congress is a 120-year-old party, we have a pocket in every village of this country. It's a question of time. In 1986, the BJP had only two MPs and now they have 272, these things happen.
We've taken a beating, but we wrested control of the three seats in Uttarakhand that we had lost to the BJP. Sonia Gandhi is looking at the entire re-organisation of the party and she will take steps to strengthen it.
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi's leadership has come under a cloud of late.
I have known Rahul Gandhi since he was eight years old. He has the right attitude, he is a positive-minded boy. It was the media that portrayed the Congress as guilty in a string of scams -- the 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games, coal scam -- even before the courts have pronounced their verdict. The Congress was portrayed as a corrupt party and Rahul Gandhi came into the leadership at that time. He was not involved in any of this, and yet he had to face it. What can he do? Rahul Gandhi cannot be blamed for it. The UPA has not been adjudicated guilty by the courts as yet.
Do you think that Natwar Singh's "revelations" have damaged the image of Sonia Gandhi and her leadership?
I haven't read Natwar Singh's book, I have just seen the interview. And in my opinion, referring to that incident in 2004, I think, Rahul Gandhi had every right to be upset. After all, he had lost his father, his grandmother, and he felt his mother may face the same danger. He was about 30 years old at that time. Any son would have felt the same way.
And, as far as the book is concerned, I think anyone who is in a position of trust like Natwar Singh, should honour that position. If I am entrusted with any information, I am honour-bound to keep it with me and not make it public.
Image: Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi with party chief Sonia Gandhi