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'AAP is a myth that has started to explode'

By Amit Agnihotri
September 07, 2016 10:28 IST
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Amrinder Singh

IMAGE: Captain Amarinder Singh on the campaign trail in Punjab. Photograph: Kind courtesy: Amarinder Singh/Facebook

'I have promised I will eliminate the problem within four weeks.'
'We know -- in fact everybody in Punjab knows -- who are the people who control the drugs supply and trade.'

Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh tells Amit Agnihotri how he plans to correct all that is wrong with the state if the Congress is voted to power.

The Congress high command has bet on you to steer the party ahead of the 2017 assembly polls in Punjab. What are the party's chances of winning the elections?

Well, I would like to say 100 per cent. The Congress is in a commanding position. People are looking up to us with great expectations. Two consecutive terms of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party rule have damaged Punjab economically and socially.

We have a mounting debt, which runs to the tune of Rs 1.25 lakh crore.

The agriculture sector has collapsed.

Industry has either wound up or shifted to other states.

The drug menace is so rampant that an entire generation has been affected.

During the last 10 years, while the personal fortunes of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal grew by billions of rupees -- and this is on record -- Punjab has slid into virtual bankruptcy.

How will you deal with problems such as drugs and a sliding agriculture sector?

Well, we are planning to waive the loans of farmers in distress. Besides, we will make agriculture remunerative.

I had envisaged and planned it during my previous term also. However, we did not have enough time and the Akalis scrapped all those plans and policies.

On the menace of drugs, I have promised under oath that I will eliminate the problem within four weeks.

Now, you will ask me, 'how?' We know -- in fact everybody in Punjab knows -- who are the people who control the drugs supply and trade.

We need to tackle them. We will put them behind bars in the first week of coming to power and start the treatment of addicts in state rehabilitation centres.

You only need intent and the will to do it.

What do you think are the challenges before the Congress?

Greater the strength, greater the expectations of voters and greater the challenge. People want a comeback of the Congress. They throng our political events.

As I criss-cross the state, they stop my car on the roadside. They talk to me and share their grievances.

They want us to win the elections and provide the same type of government we provided them between 2002 and 2007. People recall and compare the previous Congress tenure with that of the present Akali-BJP combine.

Living up to their expectations is the real challenge.

What is the Congress campaign focusing on?

We are primarily focusing on the issue of employment besides economic, industrial and agricultural revival and eradication of the scourge of drugs.

We have promised to provide at least one job per family. Of course, these will not be government jobs only, but in the private sector as well.

Every now and then we hear of a farmer committing suicide due to debt.

Do you think the 2017 assembly polls will be a personality-driven clash, with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal aggressively campaigning in the state?

If you are asking whether the polls will be leader-centric or party-centric, I think leadership will get preference and precedence over party.

People have started believing that almost all the parties have the same policies and programmes with slight variations, although that is not a correct perception.

Like in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, there is a leader-centric trend in Punjab also. People will look up to the leader, who is going to be their chief minister.

It happened in 2014 at the national level and continued in Bihar and West Bengal. No wonder it is happening in Punjab as well.

Who is the Congress' main political rival next year -- the Aam Aadmi Party or the Shiromani Akali Dal?

Frankly speaking, neither.

Ten years of Akali-BJP misrule has led to a humongous anti-incumbency against the combine. Let the elections be notified, the Akalis will not be able to step out of their homes.

Such is the anger against them among the people. They may not even find enough candidates to field in the elections.

As far as the AAP is concerned, it is a myth that has started to explode.

The AAP peaked in Punjab in 2014. Since then, the party has fragmented and that process is going on.

Besides, people of Punjab consider it to be a party of rank outsiders, who are neither concerned about the state nor can they understand its ethos.

Is the AAP campaign in Punjab impacting the Congress?

No way. You should compare our programmes with their events and see the difference yourself.

Rabble-rousing and making noise do not qualify someone to be a serious challenger.

We have seen such summer storms come and go several times in the past.

Infighting has been a perennial problem in the state Congress. How are you dealing with it?

There is no infighting in the Punjab Congress. There is a common goal to defeat the Akalis and install a Congress government in the state.

Our entire senior leadership, including Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Partap Singh Bajwa, Ambika Soni, Sunil Jakhar and Manpreet Singh Badal, to name a few, are working day in and day out.

Every day you will find at least three or four major party programmes taking place at one or the other place in the state.

The Pradesh Congress Committee is working as a strong cohesive unit.

The Congress keeps talking of the need to attract young voters. What steps have you taken to attract them?

Youth are an important constituent among voters. We have nine million people in the age group of 18 to 40. Their expectations are different from their elders. And they are going to be a decisive factor in the polls.

I have been reaching out to them by going to colleges and universities. Besides, I have held several teleconferences with young voters.

We have identified the issues, particularly employment -- their primary concern. They have hopes from us and we will fulfil them.

What are your plans for Punjab if you become the chief minister?

I have been saying it again and again that I want to see the smile back on the faces of Punjabis. You know, Punjabis used to be the most jolly and lively people. They were known to be happy-go-lucky types.

However, during the last decade, there has been an atmosphere of gloom and despair in the state.

We have youth trapped in the drug menace.

We have farmers committing suicide.

We have industry moving out of the state.

We have a government that cannot pay salaries and pension to its staff.

Punjab has to be revived, retrieved and redeemed to the position of its former glory. That is precisely what I plan to do.

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Amit Agnihotri
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