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'The Akalis have run Punjab to the ground'

By Rashme Sehgal
January 18, 2016 09:57 IST
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'They are completely corrupt and have introduced a mafia culture which has seen one family control the entire resources of the state.'

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.

IMAGE: Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.


Former Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal has set the ball rolling for the state assembly election by merging his Punjab People's Party with the Congress.

Manpreet Badal, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's estranged nephew, spoke to Rashme Sehgal about why he has joined the Congress and about how the Akali Dal has mismanaged Punjab.

Five years ago, by launching the PPP, you acted as the spoiler for the Congress in the state assembly election. The Congress lost by a very narrow margin. Now you have gone and joined the very party that you had opposed.

Five years ago, when we started the PPP, we drew up an agenda that kept the best interests of the state in mind. In that sense, we were the predecessors of AAP.

We drew up an 11-point agenda that highlighted putting an end to VIP culture, putting an end to the nexus between the police and politicians and reducing the state debt.

During the last six months, I have had three meetings with Rahul Gandhi and we discussed our party's agenda with him at length.

Rahul Gandhi came around to accept our view and accepted out entire agenda in its totality.

The Congress felt our joining them would boost their chances while the Congress would provide a bigger platform for us.

You were rumoured to be keen to join AAP. What happened?

We were in talks with AAP, but these were not held at my level. Finally, I felt that AAP does not have any agenda for the state. My chief concern is how do we put Punjab back on track.

AAP does not have any mature leadership. In that sense, the Congress has a much more talented team. Look at leaders like Kapil Sibal and Chidambaram.

What Punjab needs today is a more sober leadership, not a populist driven leadership as is the case at present.

Are you saying the present Akali Dal leadership in the state is totally populist driven?

Yes. The Akalis have run the state to the ground. They are completely corrupt and have introduced a mafia culture which has seen one family control the entire resources of the state.

They have no long term vision. Their vision is limited from one election to another. They have shown no interest in building institutions and their policies have not benefitted the state in any manner.

You are using strong words when you say that a mafia culture is dominating the state.

All this is in the public domain. If any one wants to know what this family (the ruling Badal family) is up to, all they have to do is apply to the Company Law Board.

They (the Badals) control the cable, transport industry; they are in sand mining and a lot else. They have a 99 per cent ownership in these companies.

I don't have to substantiate these allegations. It's not a big secret. All these details are known to the public at large.

You were part of the Akali team. You were the finance minister.

What better proof do you need? I was the finance minister, but I chose to tender my resignation. Have you heard of any other finance minister putting in his resignation?

I had thought when I joined them that I would take some time to get them around (to put the interests of the state first) but then I realised they were simply not interested.

Manpreet Singh Badal, Captain Amarinder Singh and Rahul Gandhi

IMAGE: Manpreet Singh Badal, left, who joined the Congress in New Delhi, January 15, with Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh (retd). Photograph: PTI Photo


Can you provide more details of what you claim are the Badal family's financial irregularities?

All one needs to do is to analyse the profit growth of their companies. How were companies owned by them making profits of over a thousand per cent in one year? What kind of a business degree do they possess?

Maybe, they should share this information with the common man so that others can also make such disproportionate profits.

There has been loot of the public treasury and nothing else.

The bottom line today is that we need to pass a conflict of interest legislation so that those occupying public positions cannot benefit in this manner.

We need to understand what were their assets before they came to power and what assets have they acquired in the last ten years.

Take the example of their television company, which has the sole rights to do a live telecast from the Golden Temple. Why should they be charging for this telecast? Every company should be given this right as this is a matter of religious sentiment.

If I was a religious head, I would say the more, the merrier.

It is very embarrassing to see what Punjab was and what it is at present. We need to change this.

You acted as the spoiler for the Congress in the last state election.

It was inadvertent and not done with any malice. I wanted to open up the space for a third front. My objective was to get rid of the Akalis.

The recent Megh Mela in Mukstar seems to show that there is a surge in AAP's favour.

I don't think so. AAP does not have any blue print for the state.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said Captain Amarinder Singh has already made the Congress lose two state elections. He will now take them to their third defeat.

In Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh is considered one of the most charismatic leaders of the state. He is very honest. People respect him for his guts.

In 1965, he was in the military, but he submitted his resignation.

When the '65 war broke out with Pakistan, he fought with the defence secretary and insisted he wanted his commission back. The government relented and he was reinstated.

He is the only son of the Maharaja of Patiala, but he went and fought. The man has guts.

We need to expose all this bluff and bravado of the Akalis. We need to do solid work for the state.

The Congress is known to be its own worst enemy. The Punjab Congress is famous for its infighting.

The party will close ranks this time around. No one wants to go into a third defeat. The Congress senses that victory is do-able and they believe they can turn the situation around.

How many seats has the Congress promised you in the state election?

We are not looking for seats. Rather, we want an assurance that if the Congress does come to power, it will ensure a GDP growth of 10 per cent. The state is in the doldrums -- it needs to pulled up by the scruff of its shoulders.

Your entry into the Congress is perceived to be a threat by some leaders in Punjab.

I would have been a threat if I had asked for any post. I have not done so. I think in the long term, it is more important to win the respect of the party cadre.

During the last assembly elections, the Congress lost by a 0.8 per cent vote share to the Akalis while your party got 5 per cent of vote share. Would you be happy to contest against Parkash Singh Badal from the Lambi constituency?

I would be delighted. I must point out that in the last Lok Sabha election, I contested against (Union Minister and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal's wife) Harsimrat Kaur and helped reduce her margin of victory to just 19,000 though the entire administration was behind her. She had earlier won the seat by half a million votes.

You talked about how the drug culture in Punjab was being promoted by vested interests.

The drug trade is not being sponsored by Pakistan. Punjab has a 553 km border with Pakistan. Rajasthan and Gujarat have much larger borders, stretching over 1,000 km for each of these states. How come one does not hear about ISI-sponsored drug trade there?

This is a myth that has been created. Synthetic drugs are being manufactured within Punjab by some rogue officers and this state of affairs can be checked in a matter of hours.

If Punjab can fight and win terrorism sponsored by Pakistan, why can it not control this drug mafia? For this, the sovereign writ of the state must run. Also, the police-political connection needs to be broken.

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Rashme Sehgal