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The Rediff Interview/Former Punjab minister Captain Kanwaljit Singh

July 02, 2003

The Shiromani Akali Dal headed by Parkash Singh Badal, the former Punjab chief minister, plans a traffic blockade in the state if Badal is arrested for allegedly plundering public money and amassing huge wealth.

In an interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh in Chandigarh, Captain Kanwaljit Singh, former finance minister in the Badal government, claims the Congress government in the state is deliberately targeting Badal with a view to finish off the Akali Dal.

Do you think there is a campaign against your party?

Ever since the Congress government headed by Captain Amarinder Singh came to power last year, Punjab has been witnessing an atmosphere of total confrontation. The present regime is relying on just one strategy -- to suppress the Akali Dal in the state so that they can rule for years.

In one-and-a-half years of its rule, the Congress government has not done a single developmental work. They have failed to provide any relief to any section of society. Nor have they planned for the growth of the economy. They do not have any idea or any strategy for the progress of the state.

Why do you think they are doing this?

They have abandoned administration and good governance. They are convinced that for ruling Punjab they have to suppress the Shiromani Akali Dal -- the main Opposition party in the state. If they think they can browbeat us then they are sadly mistaken.

The Congress feels if they finish Badal politically, they can finish the Akali Dal as well?

They are trying to target Badal in the hope of finishing the Akali leadership. They have arrested a number of former ministers of the Badal government and put them behind bars on one pretext or the other. A large number of Akali Dal workers have been arrested and sent to jail. Chandigarh is agog with rumours that Badal is likely to be arrested soon.

What do you plan to do in case Badal is arrested?

First and foremost, I must emphasis that the campaign against Badal and other Akali leaders is part of a political vendetta. We have been gearing up to put up strong resistance in case the Congress goes ahead with the arrest of Sardar Badal.

What kind of resistance are you talking about?

If Badal is arrested then all the Akali workers would come on the roads and stop the movement of traffic in Punjab for two days. Thereafter, we will hold demonstrations and gherao all sub-division offices in the entire state. This is the plan that has been prepared by the political affairs committee of the Shiromani Akali Dal.

We are totally in the dark about the case against Sardar Badal or what kind of proof they have against him. We only read about it in the newspapers. The people do not know anything about it nor does the leadership of the Shiromani Akali Dal. If the records are placed in court then the Akali Dal would certainly contest the case in court itself.

Captain Amarinder Singh has accused the Akali leadership of plundering public money and filing its coffers.

He is trying to confuse the two issues. One is the issue of corruption. As far as the eradication of corruption from public life is concerned we are for it. But what Amarinder Singh is doing is totally different. He is carrying out a political campaign against the Akali Dal to suppress the Akali leadership as well as its workers. And this we will not allow to happen at
any cost.

Are you saying that none of the Akali leaders ever made money?

Our stand is that if the Congress government has any proof that the Akali leaders indulged in corruption then let them constitute a commission of inquiry. Let the whole thing be sorted out by due process of law, and not by the process of victimisation.

For four years Badal and Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra fought each other. Now the two have found reasons to patch up. Why?

I think it is a question of facing political reality. They have decided to sink in their difference and fight against the Congress move to suppress the Akali Dal. Tohra's Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal was not strong enough to win seats but it could damage the chances of the Shiromani Akali Dal. Division between Akali votes must be avoided because it helped Captain Amarinder Singh come to power in Punjab. If the two Akali leaders had contested together they would have been ruling the state.

When the Akalis are in power they fight each other and split up. When they are out of power they patch up and talk about unity. Why?

What you are saying is partly true. The Akali Dal has split many times and into various factions. But you must also realise that there are other parties that have split like the Janata Dal. There have been splits in the Congress as well. As a parliamentary democracy, we are still in the process of evolving.

Like any other party there is a son -- Sukhbir Badal -- in the Akali Dal who is rising.

(Laughs) The sun rises every morning and people welcome it.

Is the Akali Dal also heading for family rule?

Let us face it -- in the Indian system of parliamentary democracy political parties are evolving around personalities and not on issues. It is rather unfortunate, but it is true.

What is the deal with Tohra?

I do not think there is any underhand deal with Tohra. It is political reality that has brought them together. They want to pose a serious challenge to the Congress government in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election.

The Congress says you were reckless and allowed anti-national elements like Jagjit Singh Chohan and Wassan Singh Zaffarwal back to the state.

Khalistan is a thing of the past, no matter how much noise Chohan makes about it. We allowed them in because they have become irrelevant. They have no support. Occasional statements in the media should be taken with a pinch of salt. The people of Punjab want to live in peace and progress. Nobody in Punjab wants to suffer what they had undergone in the eighties.

K P S Gill, former director general of the Punjab police, says the Akali Dal is playing into the hands of the ISI.

It is unfortunate that the Shiromani Akali Dal which fought in the freedom movement along with other national leaders should be accused of anti-national activities. We are not playing anyone's game. Gill may have his own reasons for making such statements.

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