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'Capt Amarinder has failed Punjab'

June 04, 2021 11:36 IST

'Let the Congress high command decide who will replace Captain Amarinder because they are far wiser than I am.'

IMAGE: A photograph tweeted by Rahul Gandhi after he met Captain Amarinder Singh on March 14, 2017. Photograph: Kind courtesy OfficeOfRG/Twitter

Congress MLA from Jalandhar Cantonment Pargat Singh Powar tells Prasanna D Zore/ that his opposition to Punjab's Congress Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh is "issue-based" politics.

Pargat Singh -- a former captain of India's hockey team -- and Amritsar East MLA and former India cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu have emerged as Captain Amarinder's detractors with the state Congress organisation.

While Sidhu jumped onto the Congress bandwagon after having served as the BJP MP from Amritsar from 2004 to 2014, Pargat Singh joined the Congress in 2017 after being an Akali Dal MLA for Jalandar Cant between 2012 and 2017.

Sidhu and Singh reportedly told the three-member Congress committee -- consisting of Mallikarjun Kharge, J P Agarwal and Harish Rawat -- set up to resolve intra-party differences in the Punjab Congress that the party could appoint one or two deputy chief ministers for the next eight months before before next year's assembly election.

"Even in my hockey career I have always been forthright and consistent with my views. I don't mince words when I feel strongly about issues," says Singh who led the national team at the Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996) Olympic Games.

Why are you upset with Captain Amarinder Singh?

It is not a question of getting upset with an individual. And it is just not me, but many of us (are upset with him).

I have raised certain important issues related to the betterment of Punjab and so this is about issue-based politics. Do not make it individual-centric.

I have always stood for people's issues and this time too it is no different.

We have been asking him to pursue the sacrilege issue but he has not been too keen to take the case head on. This issue touches too many raw nerves in Punjab.

The second issue is about the power purchase agreement (signed by the previous Akali government) with three power producers but given the way the tariffs are calculated, this PPA needs a thorough review.

They have made many mistakes (in signing these PPAs). Today, power costs Rs 9 per unit in Punjab. In Haryana, the same power costs Rs 2.25. As per certain clauses in these agreements after five years the cost per unit will be Rs 15-16.

If we as a state have to industrialise and prosper, then given such high power rates who will set up factories in Punjab compared to Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, which are selling electricity at such lower rates?

These contracts have been signed with three different companies for 25 years. We are just seven years into these PPAs and 18 years are still to go.

We may or may not live that long, but Punjab's next generation will pay the ultimate price of these PPAs.

How can I keep quiet about this PPA loot that is happening in Punjab? I cannot.

The third crucial issue that the people of Punjab are looking forward is the Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion) irrigation scam and the Rs 31,000 crore (Rs 310 billion) foodgrain scam that needs to be brought to closure.

Captain Amarinder had set up a probe under the Punjab Vigilance Bureau when he came to power in 2017.

I have written several letters and discussed these issue personally with him, but he has not been able to convince me (that he is serious about solving these issues) or I have not been able to convince him (that these issues need serious consideration).

The Guru Granth Saheb sacrilege issue dates back to 2015 when the Shiromani Akali Dal government was ruling Punjab.
Why are you cornering Captan Amarinder in 2021, about eight months before the assembly election in 2022?

You may not be aware, but I have been following this issue on a regular basis with him. I have written several letters to him, specifically about these issues since the last 18 months. It is not just now (that I am raising this issue).

Why is the chief minister not acting on the three important issues you have been raising?

(Laughs) We will be happy if you could get this answered from him for me and many others (leaders in the state Congress) like me.

The Congress high-command sent a three-member high-level committee to talk to all sections of Congress leaders in Punjab and you met them on June 1.
What important issues did you raise on behalf of the people of Punjab when you met them on June 1?

I gave them the copies of all the letters I have written to Captain Amarinder since the last 18 months. I had a serious discussion with the three members of this high-level committee for about 40 minutes.

And they are not just meeting me. They are meeting more than 24 Congress MLAs to get their feedback on various issues and how people of Punjab are feeling about these issues.

I have been consistent with the three crucial issues I have been raising. So, saying that I have started raising these issues just a few months before the next assembly election is not being fair to me.

Even in my hockey career I have always been forthright and consistent with my views. I don't mince my words when I feel strongly about issues.

I believe that the system has been made primarily to serve the people and if I, as an MLA, as representatives of my people, am not able to serve them, then I should better tighten myself up and ensure that I meet people's expectations.

Will the Congress be able to win the 2022 assembly election given the infighting within the state unit?

There is hardly any infighting (in the Punjab Congress).

Haven't you and Navjot Singh Sidhu openly canvassed for change in the leadership of the Congress government in Punjab?

If they are not listening to people's voices, what else can we do?

I always follow protocol. I never went public before. I would always meet him in a room and raise these (three) and several other issues. But he never listened (to my pleas).

When this happened repeatedly, I wrote a letter and listed all the issues I had been discussing with him personally.

I cannot but raise people's voices when their religious feelings are hurt and when Punjab is in deep financial trouble.

Ultimately, it is the people of Punjab who will be repaying this debt.

How will we restore confidence of the people of Punjab if we don't resolve these issues for their benefit?

Eight months before the assembly election, the state Congress has not been able to resolve these issues amicably and to everybody's satisfaction. Wouldn't this benefit the Akalis politically?

I don't see any problem (because of the issues we have been raising). The Akalis don't have any (political) ground at all. They are trying to find the ground.

Isn't the Congress infighting giving the Akalis a fertile ground to till?
Isn't this infighting giving the people of Punjab a feeling that Congress is not fit to rule the state and solve its financial as well as other woes?

Not at all.

The 2017 election was basically based on personalities (that of Captain Amarinder Singh as a challenger and Parkash Singh Badal, the Akali Dal chief minister, as the defender). Then we had our faith in him and accepted him as our collective leader.

But while anybody can run a government under normal circumstances, tough issues too need to handled in a time-based manner.

Are you saying that Captain Amarinder failed to deliver on his promises to the people of Punjab?

Yes, definitely, on the major issues. He did solve a lot of minor issues. (But) on the major issues (he has failed).

Now that you are saying your own government has failed the people of Punjab, wouldn't that seriously dent the image of this Congress government?

The 2017 election might have been based (and won) on the issue of personality, but the Congress party doesn't have just one tall leader.

Our government has been doing good work. Even at the individual level all MLAs of the party are working for the welfare of their constituents. In my constituency I have spent almost Rs 250 crore (Rs 2.5 billion) for developmental work.

We have done some great work so far as construction of bridges, flyovers, safe disposal of sewerage water is concerned.

But if you look at some major issues that need to be addressed quickly by the state chief minister, they were never addressed.

You have demanded that the chief minister be replaced. Who would you want to become the CM in his place?

The party has several senior members, adequately experienced as I am, and this is strictly my feeling.

Ab aap dekh lo kaunsa combination banana hai (.

Would you support Navjot Singh Sidhu as chief minister if voters re-elect the Congress in 2022?

Anybody (can become chief minister). It will be for the elected representatives and the high command to decide that.

Our politics is based on issues and not personalities.

How will the Congress perform in the 2022 assembly election?

The Congress will do much better. No problem at all.

It (the issues we have raised) has nothing to do with the election or leaders (who will be the next CM).

Only the people of this state will judge as to which party has delivered the best to them.

We are fighting for issues that need to be resolved because that is what the people of Punjab feel.

We are just raising the voices and feelings of Punjabi people.

What if the Congress is re-elected and Captain Amarinder is retained as CM. Will you accept him as the CM?

We have already accepted him. Even now he will deliver.

Then, what is the problem? Why do you think Captain Amarinder has not delivered on the three issues, which you say are also strongly voiced by the people of Punjab, till now?

You better ask him. This question is for him to answer.

I don't know why he has not done this. All' three issues happened during their (Akalis) rule (in Punjab between 2012 and 2017). But the same issues have been carried forward (without being solved).

Do you asupport the perception that Captain Amarinder has mingled with the Akalis?

Of course, everybody (feels that way); we get such feedback from the villages, feedback from our voters. And that is what we putting forward.

We have very categorically and very clearly told this to the three-member high-level committee

In the 40-minute discussion with the three leaders I told them each and everything that has happened in the state .

Did you tell the three leaders about the reported threat you received from one of Captain Amarinder's aides?

That is a minor issue. But if somebody has threatened me, then let him carry out his threat. I will face it.

I have the support of people of my constituency, of Punjab. That's my strength.

They said they have made a list; they said 'You have bought properties here and there'. I have asked them to investigate it and if it is proved I have done something wrong then put me behind bars. I am not scared.

I fought against the Akalis on the same issues. My fight with Captain Amarinder Singh is because of these issues.