Debating India

INTERVIEW

The BJP And Allies Are Behind It

BBC HINDI RADIO, Nagendar SHARMA

Monday 15 December 2003, by SHARMA*Nagendar

Article paru dans Outlook India, ?dition en ligne du 15 d?cembre 2003.

Why is the Congress having problems in Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttaranchal, Himachal, Punjab, Assam? How were the Congress MLAs in Arunachal made to form a separate party and break the government ? asks the Punjab CM.

The full transcript of the BBC Hindi special programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with the Punjan Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on: Is Prakash Singh Badal being made a victim of political vendetta and what the result of such politics would be.

BBC : Is the former Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal facing an act of revenge or would justice be done to him ?

Amarinder Singh : I don’t know why this impression is being created that Prakash Singh Badal is being made a victim of political vendetta. When we went in to the election campaign for the Punjab assembly, about two years ago, corruption was our major election plank. We had made it absolutely clear at that point that we would start from the top in exposing corruption, and it was made known to the public that we would probe against the disproportionate assets of Prakash Singh Badal. During last two years, investigations were conducted, and then the findings were taken to the court. Our government did not arrest Badal first, as is the norm in some states to arrest the person concerned and then investigate. A proper procedure has been followed before the arrest of Badal. First of all investigation was carried out, and it was the court which ordered the arrest, therefore to say that Badal has been arrested out of political vendetta is not fair.

BBC listener from Patiala : Captain Singh your action against corruption is laudable, you have tamed the big fish, but in reality corruption is still on at all levels - from patwaris to tehsildars to SDOs and even government hospitals - there is no respite to the common man, do you intend to do anything on that ?

Amarinder Singh : I agree with you. But one should bear in mind that this menace has been in the society for many decades and even centuries now. I cannot destroy it overnight, it would take time. Let me tell you that after the Congress government came in the state, about 400 hundred cases of corruption are being investigated, out of these only ten are against politicians, rest are all against officers and employees including IAS officers, patwaris and tehsildars. I assure you that out government is taking action, but it will take time.

We have taken this initiative, as I told you, from the top, meaning the former chief minister, and we need your support in this, maybe this menace of corruption, which I say is a curse, a disease, is not eradicated completely. But let us try to minimise it as far as possible.

BBC listener from Dubai : Captain Amarinder, don’t you think that by arresting Mr Badal, you have increased his importance. Also, former Prime Minister Ms Indira Gandhi had once said - corruption is in our veins - do you still think you would be able to succeed against corruption ?

Amarinder Singh : This is not a political arrest, this is a criminal arrest, and no one can increase his political clout with criminality.

So far as the statement of Mrs Gandhi is concerned, I agree with it, I have told you that this menace is on since centuries and cannot be got rid off overnight, but at the same time, if we could give relief to the common man, let us do that at least . Let the common man’s life be better by fifty percent compared to earlier. At the moment, an atmosphere against corruption has been created in Punjab.

BBC : Captain Singh, you are right that corruption was your main election plank, but why has it taken two years to bring out the cases, it is being said that Badal’s arrest was timed now to divert attention from infighting within your own party...

Amarinder Singh : Investigation is not an easy process. Details of properties are to be obtained and then can the process move. Even now ,only the cases pertaining to the disproportionate assets of Prakash Singh Badal in India, have come out, those abroad are still to be probed. But the letter rogatories from the concerned authorities are being obtained, and investigation into the entire disproportionate assets of Badal and his family would be on soon.

BBC listener from Hoshiarpur : There is no doubt that your crusade against corruption needs to be welcomed. But why is it pick and choose, are you trying to settle old scores with Mr Badal, or are you trying to send a message to detractors within the Congress that no dissent would be tolerated ?

Amarinder Singh : All this talk of infighting and all that goes on in politics, it is the ambitions of certain people, which becomes uncontrollable, some ministers want to eventually become chief minister, someone might want to settle down for deputy chief minister, others might be looking for similar promotions, but this is part of the game.

But so far as the fight against corruption is concerned, we are absolutely clear in fulfilling our election promise. We had said that this would start from the top, meaning Badal, and we have started it, there is no question of revenge and all that. It was a part of our election manifesto.

The Punjab government will now make serious efforts to make it known to the people of the state and the country as well, what steps we have been taking in our fight against corruption. Our news gets embedded in Punjab only, it does not reach Delhi, but we are taking services of professional agencies in this regard to improve our public relations now.

BBC : When you were in opposition you had said that the assets of Mr Badal and his work as Chief Minister would be probed by a sitting judge of the High Court, why has that not been done so far ?

Amarinder Singh : This matter is pending before a lower court right now, so why should we interfere with it? So far as our fight is concerned, recently the Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Courts has said that cases of corruption in public places would be looked into by two special courts.

BBC : But Captain Singh, you had promised during the election campaign that your government would not withdraw free power and electricity from the farmers, but after coming to power, your government withdrew it, why ?

Amarinder Singh : You are right, but when we came to power, the economic situation of the state was so bad, that we were under a debt of 42,000 crore rupees. We were not in a position to even pay the interest of this debt. We had to go for multilateral funding agencies like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank etc.

When we borrow from international agencies, then we have to adhere to the conditions put forward. We have now promised the farmers that what they were getting during the Akali regime, we would try to restore it - let me make it clear that we would not be in any position to give free power up to four hours, but we would look at concessions as far as possible.

As the economic situation improves, we would try to restore the benefits, and remember all election promises cannot be fulfilled in a year, people have elected us for five years and we will do what is desired of us.

BBC : But what plan do you have to improve the economic situation ?

Amarinder Singh : Our plan is to make Punjab an investment destination. We are already in the process of getting foreign investors into the state, for economic development this is important. For infrastructure development, we are borrowing from international agencies. This is the beginning, there is a power shortage of 1200 MW, we are now moving towards the goal of 24 hours electricity supply in all 12,700 villages of Punjab by June next year. I am also aware about the problem of unemployment. More than 30 lakh youth are unemployed in the state. Why? It is because of the bloodshed that Punjab saw for more than a decade. In fact during that period, prosperous people from Punjab went to other parts of the country.

Now we are trying to create an environment for investment, which would create jobs and money for the state exchequer.

BBC listener from Amritsar : Don’t you think that the level of politics in a state with such a glorious history is falling so much today - you are levelling allegations against Badal, on the other hand, Bhattal is alleging your government also has corrupt practices, what does the common man do ?

Amarinder Singh : Let me tell you that I do not care who is saying what about me, whether it be Bhattal or anybody else. What I am trying is - to make Punjab a state where any common man can go to any office and get the work done without money, without fear. I cannot say how much success I will get in this, would I be successful or not - but I will try my best. Politics goes on, I am not worried about what is being said about me.

BBC : But has the level of politics in the state gone down ?

Amarinder Singh : So tell me what should I do? Should I stop the fight against corruption ? If I do that the state will suffer an irreparable loss, and no investment would be possible in the state. See, the image of Punjab today for the outside world is that nothing can be done there without giving money to the officials. Why would anyone come then? I will see that such a stigma on Punjab is washed and it becomes the investment destination of the country, free of corruption.

BBC : But it is said that you are inaccessible and do not meet even your party MLAs, and last week has seen a near revolt in your party...

Amarinder Singh : See, this is not the case, when somebody has a big ambition, they can mint excuses to create trouble. Everyone knows that from nine am to one PM, I only meet the ministers, MLAs and common people. In the afternoon, I have to look after the official work, which I cannot give up.

BBC : But two former CMs - one from your party, Ms Bhattal, and the other, Mr Badal - have been consistently saying that you do not go to the state secretariat regularly ?

Amarinder Singh : I do not care what they are saying. Mrs Bhattal wants my chair, she wants to be the Chief Minister, everyone in Punjab knows that. So far as Mr Badal is concerned, I am after the corrupt deeds during his tenure. So now he is trying to create an environment of change in the state, so that Akalis come back to power. If you want to know the reality, please ask the people, both these leaders have their own unsuccessful reasons.

BBC Listener from Rajasthan : Do you seriously think that any fight against corruption can succeed today ? Are you getting support from within your party and outside on this?

Amarinder Singh : Whether it would succeed or not, only time would tell. I am getting 100 percent support from my party, but again this evil is going on since centuries and cannot be removed overnight, or in a few months or years - it will take time. But if I am able to give some relief to the people, I would think I have done something.

BBC : You are claiming of 100 percent support, but all those who have fought against corruption have found themselves waging a lone battle in the end...

Amarinder Singh : In this world, one should not be afraid of being alone. If you have a firm determination that what you are doing is for the betterment of your state, why not do it? Why be worried for being lonely?

BBC listener from Ferozepur : Sir, I have myself been a victim of corruption during the Akali regime, I was a first divisioner in MA, I have also done B.Ed, but did not get any job of a teacher. Do you really see any hope in the fight ? Tell us frankly how many problems are you facing ?

Amarinder Singh : I have great faith in the judiciary of this country. I know there are problems of evidence and all that in corruption cases. But what we all need to do is to create an environment in the state, that anybody indulging in corruption is afraid of the public opinion. It is a tough job, but let us all stand and do this. At least, try. BBC : Mr Singh, your government was facing trouble from within. Mrs Bhattal and you both, were claiming of having majority support. Recently you said you have the support of 40 Congress MLAs . Now do you enjoy majority in the 117 member house?

Amarinder Singh : No, I never said that I have the support of 40 MLAs. It was a wrong impression. What happened was that when Bhattal came to Delhi with 23 MLAs, I said that let the remaining 40 also meet the high command. At the moment, all 66 MLAs are united. When Badal threw a challenge that I prove my majority in the House, I accepted the challenge. We may have internal differences, but no Congress MLA will support the Akalis.

BBC : Are you going to ask the governor to convene a special session for proving your majority in the house ?

Amarinder Singh : I have come to know through newspapers that the opposition has sent some letter to the governor. Let me see it, I am ready face the house and to prove the majority, at any time in the assembly, whether Akalis want it or anyone else.

BBC : Are you hinting that there is somebody behind this trouble in Punjab Congress?

Amarinder Singh : It is clear. In the states where Congress is in power, why are we having problems in Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttaranchal, Himachal, Punjab, Assam, - how were the Congress MLAs in Arunachal made to form a separate party and break our government? The question is who is behind all this? Who is doing it on all India basis?

The answer is absolutely clear - the BJP led government at the Centre, along with their allies, such as the Akalis in Punjab. But we are saying let them try, the Congress party is strong and secure, and with the support of the people, such efforts would not be successful in Punjab and any other state.

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