This edition of the Express Adda held at Indigo, One Golden Mile, Delhi, saw two guests, a couple who straddle the world of power politics at the Centre and the state. In a discussion moderated by The Indian Express National Opinion Editor Vandita Mishra and National Bureau Chief Maneesh Chhibber, Sukhbir Singh Badal, Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab, and Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Union Minister for Food Processing, spoke on a range of subjects. The ministers took questions from a select audience, as they spoke about the drug crisis in Punjab, the terror attack in Pathankot, their party’s—Shiromani Akali Dal—poll-preparedness ahead of next year’s assembly elections, the ban on Maggi and the role of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), and their partnership with the BJP.
On the alliance with the BJP
Sukhbir: The relationship between the Akali Dal and the BJP is good for the nation. We are a border state. Ours is the only state where whatever may happen in the country, you’ll never hear of a riot, religious conflict or caste conflict. The BJP may have many allies, but the only ally who has never ever questioned or put a condition on it has been the Akali Dal.
Harsimrat: This alliance is for the benefit of both Punjab and the nation. As for the PM, I would say that the media plays a very important role in creating perceptions about people. He’s a very dynamic leader. He’s a leader in the true sense. We had a government before this where the leader was somewhere and the power was somewhere else. The PM works hard and ensures we work hard too. He demands results. He’s very focussed. What I admire the most about him is that he is starting from the ground, from scratch.
After (years of) policy paralysis, there was this sense of doom. Look at the short time in which the world’s attitude towards us has changed. Globally, big leaders are looking at India in a different way.
On the Maggi ban
Harsimrat: Ever since I took over this ministry, I was interacting regularly with the industry. The first things they told me were the hassles they were facing from the FSSAI. First of all, I think it was a very unfortunate incident that damaged our ‘Make in India’ brand. But out of every bad comes something good, which is why I took the lead in saying that despite what has happened, it has brought into focus the shortcomings which were not being addressed, and the (need for) transparent protocols. The industry needed to know how their product was being tested. They also needed to know that putting products in the market which could damage the health of the people was not acceptable to the government. Industry can develop and not be harassed and at the same time, safe and healthy food can be provided. These two things need to go hand-in-hand. This is what the FSSAI is mandated to do and this is what was not being done. Because of the Maggi episode, the focus came where it needed to.
On balancing business with politics
Sukhbir: A person who is a successful businessman will be a successful administrator. Do you need a politician who is broke, who has nothing, or a person who doesn’t need anything? I’ll give you a small example. When I first became Deputy CM, the liaison officer of a big corporate house came to meet me and told me if I ever wanted to go to a five-star hotel, he could arrange it. I said if you ever want to go to one, just come to my hotel. So, do you want people who look for these things or people who can afford everything?