Why Sukhbir Singh Badal:
The Punjab deputy chief minister is considered the de facto power in his father Parkash Singh Badal’s government. However, the 52-year-old has been on the backfoot ever since his relative and minister Bikram Singh Majithia’s name figured in a drug racket. Now BJP has got into the act, seeking Majithia’s resignation. With PM Narendra Modi calling drugs a serious issue, there is growing talk that all is not well in an alliance that has survived many ups and downs. Further straining matters, the RSS has stepped up activities in Punjab, with its outfits conducting ghar wapsi of Christians to not just Hinduism but also Sikhism. In return, the Akali Dal has announced a series of programmes to underline its own anti-drug drive and has been taking potshots at BJP-ruled governments in states. While the Akalis and BJP are yet to take the final step, it’s anybody’s call how long the alliance will last.
Maneesh Chhibber: Your brother-in-law (Punjab minister Bikram Singh Majithia) has been grilled by the enforcement directorate for charges of being involved in a state drug racket. Your comments.
I want to ask everybody, whom do you trust more—the government or a criminal? It’s ridiculous that we catch and bust the gang, but when a known and hardcore criminal (Jagdish Bhola), who was arrested six-seven months ago, accuses a minister (Majithia), political parties take advantage of that statement. He (Majithia) is religious, a teetotaller and a vegetarian. And people just get after him on the basis of a thief’s statement.
Rahul Gandhi said 70% of Punjab’s youth are drug addicts, without going into the research he quoted from—a Guru Nanak Dev University professor’s paper, which found 70% of 1,100 drug addicts interviewed to be youth. Everyone is blasting Punjab. Goa has drugs available off the shelf, they are available on beaches. Mumbai and Pune have many rave parties. Take the NCRB data. In our state, the total drug cases were 29,000. Goa, 55 cases. Maharashtra, which is five times our population, only 1,900 cases. Rajasthan has 1,100 cases. Madhya Pradesh, 700.
We’ve been the most proactive in catching people but are blamed for being the pushers of drug addicts. Punjab produces no drugs. Drugs come from the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Secondly, drugs come from three other places—Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Drugs are manufactured there and those states are earning income this way. Rajasthan has poppy vends. Opium is grown in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. So how can you blame us?
Punjab has no druglords. Punjab is a transit point. From there, drugs go to Delhi, UP, Maharashtra. For the past three years, we’ve been fighting a full war. Every day, we see drugs caught worth R 2 crore, R5 crore, R7 crore.
Rakesh Sinha: The states you mentioned are all BJP-ruled, and you are a partner in the central government. So have you taken up the matter with the Centre? What has been the Centre’s response?
In Rajasthan, the BJP has just come in. In all the chief minister conferences I have attended, I have been forceful on one issue. I said, ‘We are the sufferers’. I had also asked Ashok Gehlot, when he came to Punjab, ‘How much money do you need? R100-200 crore? We will pay you. But please stop this’. I took it up at all national meetings. I said, ‘How can you have two laws in this country?’. In one state, you have 20-year imprisonment, while the other state is making money out of it. The easiest way to finish off drugs in this country is to seal the border with Pakistan and ban drugs in states manufacturing it. Between 2007-2014, we arrested almost 75,000 people. Other states have not even crossed 2,000 people. But we made the mistake of announcing that we are catching people.
Harish Damodaran: What is Punjab’s fiscal position, and your stand on GST?
When we took over the government in 2007, our revenue, including VAT, was R5,000 crore. Now, we are earning approximately R20,000 crore a year. Because we have put systems in place, like making the excise department completely transparent online. But our loans went up. We were fighting a terrorism war. The Army, the CRPF, whatever was stationed in Punjab, their complete expenditure—thousands of crores—was billed to us. We had to pay interest for non-payment. We fought a national war. How can you bill it to a state?
As for the GST, we are clear that our revenue streams shall not be curtailed. There were certain cesses and taxes that were imposed. Either we should be compensated for them or or be allowed to retain them. For example, we have a cess on agriculture produce. That is our raw material.
In Rajasthan, you have the oil coming out and the state gets a royalty. Our state feeds the nation. Our water table has gone down to 600 feet.
They should not take away the taxes. Our revenues should be protected.
MANOJ CG: Before the Assembly elections in Haryana, the BJP broke its alliance with Kuldeep Bishnoi’s party. Similarly, before the Maharashtra polls, the alliance with Shiv Sena broke. So are you hopeful that the BJP will continue with the alliance with you?
Our relationship with the BJP is in national and state interest. Punjab is a border state and its stability is in the interest of the nation. We are the only party that has never questioned or asked any condition to be put on our alliance and has stood by the BJP for the last 20 years. Even the Shiv Sena may have put a condition sometime.
Amitabh Sinha: Have you noticed any difference in the way the BJP has conducted itself after the new government came to power?
It’s too early to say. We’ve not faced any discrimination so far.
Amitabh Sinha: Is the BJP getting more assertive in your state?
My father calls the BJP for every discussion, every meeting. Every decision in our state is jointly taken. Never will you see a decision taken unilaterally by Mr Parkash Singh Badal. That is the reason we don’t feel any difference.
Raghvendra Rao: But there seems to be a strain between the BJP and the Akali Dal. The BJP is now saying you should not have allied with the Chautalas during the Haryana Assembly elections.
We are very clear. We don’t backstab. We’ve had an alliance with the Chautalas for the last 20 years. Even in Parliament, the BJP fought separately. The BJP was also once in alliance with us alone. But we’ve never broken up. The BJP knew it… that we had been with Chautalas. And we have never ever shied away from it.
Monojit Majumdar: How do you see this attempt at ghar wapsi in Punjab, reconversion to not just Hinduism but also Sikhism?
For the unity of our country, all minority interests should be protected. That is why PM Modi criticised the statement of a couple of MPs who went beyond their brief.
Monojit Majumdar: The Punjab CM said he we will not allow something of this kind to happen in his state.
Our state has seen no riot, including during (Jarnail Singh) Bhindranwale’s time. In the whole Majha belt, many Christians live and we participate in all their functions.
Maneesh ChHibber: There is a feeling, shared by many in the BJP, that if something were to happen to your alliance, it will also have serious repercussions in the state. Your party has been moderate among the Sikhs and you also control the SGPC. So if this alliance goes, then there will be some space which will be ceded to the extremists and the radicals.
Obviously, when you try to create a divide between two communities, fundamentalists always take advantage of it. That’s the reason that I started out saying that this alliance is in national interest.
P Vaidyanathan Iyer: What new labour reforms is Punjab taking?
Earlier, every company had about 20 registers regarding labour, we’re planning to bring it down to two registers. Then we’re making everything self-attested and self-declaratory. We have an ‘Invest Punjab’ system wherein anyone who wants to invest in Punjab just has to go to one person, call one number, go to one office. Here there is one person, who has been empowered by an Act, he has the powers of every chairman of various boards, from electricity to pollution, and he gets everything done within 30 days. It started about six months back, and we’ve already got around 180 projects cleared.
Vandita Mishra: You followed Madhya Pradesh and Bihar in introducing Right to Services. So are you sending teams to other states to study administrative reforms?
The Right to Services Act in Madhya Pradesh is for eight to 10 services. But ours is for about 200 services, which has benefited more than one crore people. By July 2015, we’ll be the only state where for every 5,000 people, there will be a seva kendra, fully air-conditioned and operational, where every service of the state is available. Our whole government and each district will be online by August. We also have police saanjh centres. If you have any police work, you don’t need to go to a station, you can go to a saanjh centre—where you have very smart girls dressed in uniforms in air-conditioned offices—and get your FIRs registered. If you’re in Mohali and something has been stolen from your house in Amritsar, you can just go to the saanjh centre in Mohali.
Pradeep Kaushal: The NDA was in power earlier also. Do you see any difference in the working of the alliance now?
It’s too early to say. Earlier the NDA was a larger group, now it’s a very small group and we haven’t been able to sit down together because we have been busy with state elections, one after the other.
Pradeep Kaushal: Would you go with BJP in the Delhi polls?
Yes. We have the same seat arrangement of four seats and our success rate was the best; we got three out of four.
Pritha Chatterjee: You launched a financial aid scheme for cancer, giving R1.5 lakh to a patient. Considering the cost of treatment, is that figure enough?
Baba Farid University in Faridkot, which is the nodal agency, came up with this figure and said it’s sufficient. We’ve taken three-four major initiatives. The Tata Memorial Cancer Institute is being constructed in Mohali. We’ve created another centre at Baba Farid University where the latest treatment facilities are available and where at least 200-300 patients are treated every day. Another centre in Bhatinda is nearing completion. We have started camps for cancer detection. No state can do this alone, it’s very expensive. The government of India has to get involved.
Shubhajit Roy: Earlier, the two Punjabs used to do a lot of business and play games such as kabaddi matches, etc. How will this relationship be affected by the new central government’s hardened stand against Pakistan? How can Punjab help in unlocking this situation?
These are separate issues. Every day, delegations or just people from Pakistan come here. Certain things are at government-to-government, diplomacy levels. I think this diplomacy will switch on and off depending on the circumstances but I don’t think we should stop the normal relationships.
Pavan BurUgula*: Now that the NDA government is at the Centre, what difference do you see in the state-versus-Centre equation, because you have been through the UPA?
I was talking to the Prime Minister and it seemed clear—because he was a chief minister for so many years and understands the problems faced by a state—that he wants decentralisation of at least some powers. The state should be free to take some decisions. I’ll give you an instance: the government of India sends funds for TB treatment to every state. The funds keep staying in Punjab and we can’t use it. Why specify usage for the whole country? Some states have TB, some states have cancer. We should allocate funds for states according to their needs. Another unfortunate thing, UP gets R70,000-80,000 crore every year as grant from the central government. Their revenue from VAT is less than that of Punjab; for them VAT revenue is of no consequence, the free money that comes takes care of it. Our state gets only R3,000 crore and our VAT revenue is some R20,000 crore. That’s how Mayawati can build so many statues and parks. States which don’t have to earn anything is another problem in this devolution of funds. States like us have been completely ignored.
Maneesh Chhibber: Do you agree with the idea that there should be no Planning Commission?
Leave the planning to the states. Here, the government of India wants to plan everything. I’ll give you an example. Funds came for village schools, some R30-40 lakh, and I was distributing these funds and they come by name, like so much for this school and so much for that. They said for boundary walls, it’s R20 lakh. But some schools had high boundary walls and needed rooms, but no, the money had to be spent on boundary walls. This is the faulty planning of our nation.
Maneesh Chhibber: You’ve made arrests, but the influx of drugs continues and though you’ve been speaking to the Centre, nothing has happened yet. So what have you been doing at your own level to fight this?
We have established a special anti-narcotics department that has control over the whole state and tracks information. Another thing we’re doing is rehabilitation. Why are people coming into rehab? Because drugs are no longer available. More than two lakh people have come into rehabilitation. We are offering medication, counselling, we’ve set up special centres and hired trained people. In Punjab, my biggest priority is that we stay on our toes. If you find anyone providing the stuff, you just call a toll-free number.
Maneesh Chhibber: Do you think the case against your brother-in-law is aimed at nailing you?
If I destroy the whole cartel and our fighting destroys the business and livelihood of thousands of people, so then they become my enemies. But we are fighting it and I don’t care.
Harish Damodaran: Punjab’s biggest strength has always been agriculture, but you have so many taxes like mandi tax, rural development cess. On wheat and paddy itself, it’s 14%. So trade is moving away. Why don’t you stop this excessive taxation?
Marble comes out of Rajashtan and they’re taxed so heavily on it. Petroleum comes out of somewhere else. This is the only thing we have and we’re supplying the whole country. We are losing water and everything, the government of India doesn’t give us a penny. So this is one of our only sources of income. Private trade is only half or 1% of the trade, our volumes are huge. A 150 lakh or million tonnes come out, or something. Punjab provides 60% of the rice and wheat requirement of the country and if we stop growing it, 60% of the country’s requirement will have to be imported. And if every one in six persons is in India, then you can imagine what will happen. Prices will skyrocket.
Transcribed by Suanshu Khurana & Shantanu David