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June 28, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/Manjit Singh Calcutta

'Sikhs will back the Indian army just as they had done in the 1965 and 1971 wars'

A close aide of former Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee chairman Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Manjit Singh Calcutta maintains that he does not know why the chief minister of Punjab Prakash Singh Badal and Tohra fell out. With a straight enough face he puts the ball in the persistent enquirer's court: "If you know the reason kindly explain it to me," he remarks with a wry smile. But no one who knows anything about Calcutta is going to take that at face value.

In an exclusive interview to Onkar Singh, Calcutta says militancy in Punjab is a thing of the past and the Sikhs of the state would back the Indian army to the hilt should hostilities break out in other parts of India. "We have our own opinion on the Kargil situation but at the moment the nation must stand behind those brave soldiers who are waging a war against our enemy Pakistan. Sikhs will back the Indian army just as they had done in the previous wars in 1965 and 1971. This is not the time to ask questions," he says.

Do you think there will be a fallout of the Kargil conflict in Punjab?

If by fallout you mean that the war may be extended to this part of India, my reading is that it would not. But if does extend to Punjab then the entire Punjab would stand behind the Indian soldiers.

Do you believe that the Bharatiya Janata Party government has failed to handle the Kargil situation properly?

We may have our own opinion. But this is not the time to ask questions. We would ask questions at the right time. At the moment the nation must stand behind those brave soldiers who are waging a war against our enemy Pakistan. Sikhs will back the Indian army just as they had done in the previous wars in 1965 and 1971.

What is the situation as far as militancy in Punjab is concerned?

Militancy in Punjab is almost dead. That movement is over and behind us. We are now looking forward to taking the state to new heights. We have suffered for ten years. It is now time for development. If you have been to some of those villages from where the militants once came from, you will find that those villages are now peaceful.

It is alleged that former SGPC chief Tohra has close links with the terrorists?

I don't know who gave you this impression. During the period of militancy it was Tohra who was attacked and injured by the militants and not Badal. Tohra has always been at the receiving end and yet people say that he has a soft corner for the militants. This is not true. Just because Tohra has floated his own Akali Dal does not mean that all sorts of charges can be flung on his face. It is unfair.

Once such close friends, Badal and Tohra now do not see eye-to-eye with each other. Why?

I wish I knew the answer to your question. I have been associated with both Badal and Tohra and despite the fact that I have known them for years I am not yet able to understand why they have fallen out. If you know the reason kindly explain it to me.

The Badal group has been saying that Tohra has become over-ambitious and he wants to be the chief minister of the state. Is it true?

Far from it. Tohra was willing to step down as SGPC chief if it would help in maintaining unity in the party. Perhaps his only sin was that he asked Badal to appoint a working chairman of the Shiromani Akali Dal after the defeat of the party nominee in the Adampur by-elections.

Promptly, Badal's men started issuing statements against Tohra and started demanding his head. This is not proper. All those who are in politics are bound to have their own ambitions. There is nothing wrong in wanting to be a chief minister.

Even if Tohra wanted to be the chief minister I personally see nothing wrong in it. But the fact is he never wanted to be the chief minister of the state. But Badal's men began creating trouble. When things did not stop even after a directive from the Akal Takht chief Bhai Ranjit Singh, Tohra chalked out his own course of action which resulted in his expulsion from the party.

Is it true that they were fighting over money?

We have heard about it as well. But this is not true. What is a thousand million rupees for the chief minister? He has made enough money to buy land in a leading city in the United States of America.

How can anyone call Tohra corrupt when all fingers point towards the chief minister's residence. His home has become the focal point of activity for those indulging in corruption. Even for appointing a peon money changes hands. Now a new phenomenon has begun. They take the money and still do not do the work.

What would be the fate of Tohra's Akali Dal in the coming Lok Sabha elections? Are you joining hands with the Congress party?

We have no intention of joining hands with the Congress. Tohra would give Badal a run for his money in the coming Lok Sabha polls. You wait and watch which way the people vote. Badal would not only lose votes, he may lose power as well.

Is Badal grooming his son for chief ministership?

So it seems but the Akalis will not let this happen. I can tell you that.

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