Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has said he agrees with the view that the Opposition should have announced its candidate for President before the ruling NDA. Asked whether the Congress had bungled in announcing Meira Kumar’s candidate after the NDA put up Ram Nath Kovind, at the Express Adda here on Friday, Singh said, “Yes, I think there has been a delay in announcement of her name… I think if she had another month or two for campaigning, perhaps it would have worked. But I am sure she will do very well.” Singh tackled a variety of issues candidly at the Adda, from politics to India-Pakistan relations and culture to economy and the massive debt faced by his state. He was also hopeful that introduction of GST would boost Punjab’s revenues by Rs 5,000-Rs 6,000 crore.
At a time when ties between India and Pakistan have hit a low, Singh said that opening up of the borders in the event of a rapprochement between the two countries would help his state “a great deal”. Singh said he had asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for permission to sell surplus power in Punjab to Pakistan, and that the PM had said he favoured it but that the time was not ripe. Significantly, he alleged a “collusion” between the Pakistani Rangers and the BSF in letting drugs into the country. “I had mentioned it to then home minister LK Advani when I was the chief minister earlier. I told him that you should change these battalions every one year. It will be an expensive proposition but (you will have to do it) if you want to break the nexus between the Rangers and these chaps. Because it is very lucrative,” he said.
However, Singh admitted that despite the promises the Congress had made before the polls, his government had not been able to catch any of the big fish involved in the racket. Claiming to have nevertheless hit the racket a blow, he added, “We will soon (get the big names).”
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Defending his stand on the J&K human shield controversy, Singh blasted former CM Omar Abdullah for raising moral and legal questions on the Army’s actions. He said Omar should first go and face the angry crowds in the Valley and then talk. “What was the option before the young major? I think he did a great job and deserves a pat on the back. I met the (Army) Chief yesterday and I said I am very happy that you have given him (the major) a commendation.”
The CM also said that his government would soon have English as the medium of instruction in government schools. Talking about the agrarian crisis, Singh said he was “very keen on GM crops”, arguing that policies have to be “fluid” and not “static”. “It is a controversial subject, people don’t want it to happen, but I think the way the population is growing, you got to have more production… If you bring GM maize, it will increase production per acre by 200 to 300%… That is the requirement of today and we have to agree to that.”
On the appearance of pro-Khalistani posters, he said his government was dealing with it sternly and that four people had been arrested on charges of sedition. “We are not going to take any nonsense, Punjab is not going to go back to square one. As long as I am there, we will not allow anything to happen,” Singh said.
He also urged Canada to rein in pro-Khalistani elements operating from its soil. Asked whether he would take up the issue with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is set to visit India, Singh said Trudeau was perhaps not aware of what was happening. “They say they got a Constitution and free speech, free action. So do we… but not against friendly countries. If Justin Trudeau is coming here, he is welcome, but he must keep these anti-Indian chaps under check.”
On Pakistan, he said people on both sides of Punjab are very warm and welcome one another with open arms, but the problem starts between government to government. Quoting a remark by former chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab Pervaiz Elahi—”Lets have an understanding. You come to Lahore and have dinner at the food street here, and we come to Amritsar and have our lunch there”—Singh said, “I hope someday that will happen.”
The opening up of the borders would “help us a great deal”, he added. He recalled that when he met Modi, “I told him that I have got 1,400 MW of power, if somebody in Pakistan is interested, will you allow me to give it? He said, ‘Agar koi baat hoti hai to 6,000 to mere pass bi hain Gujarat main, wo bi lelo, but time thoda teek hone do (If there is such a discussion, then there is 6,000 MW in Gujarat as well, that can also be given, but the time is not ripe)’.”
On the Congress, Singh was confident that it would bounce back, but argued that the party should announce its CM candidates in states in advance. Times have changed and people want to know who their CM faces are, he said. Singh said the government needed to introduce English as a medium of instruction in schools. “Otherwise, our children don’t have a chance getting in anywhere.”