At an e-Adda held recently, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh spoke on why he changed his mind to contest the next elections, the new farm laws and the crisis in the Congress leadership
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh
On contesting elections again Before the election, I had said that this was going to be my last, but it’s not going to be my last term, till I can get Punjab out of the woods, which I think is my duty. And not only my duty, it’s also my love for my state. I resigned twice from Parliament to be with my state. I have been in politics for 52 years and I take a lot of interest in doing what I can to pull us out of this mess — whether it’s an industrial or agricultural mess.
On the new farm laws We have an arhtiya system in Punjab, which has worked for 100 years. In this system the commission agents are there, farmers are there, and they have a relationship between them. The farmer always goes to the arhtiya men and takes whatever advance he needs, for a wedding, health emergency or other problems. So, it’s a system that has worked. Why are you messing around with this system? Second, when Punjab has contributed since 1967 — we’re two per cent, and we contribute 40 percent to the nation’s food pool — when you make laws, you must consult the people who are in this. Now in this case, we were not consulted at all.
On where the farmers’ protests are headed Farmers are backed by everybody in Punjab. There are about 13,000 villages, and every village has contributed…Why? Because they realise that if they are seeing what is happening, it’s going to be the end of the farming community’s lucrativeness in Punjab. Why can’t you just allow things to carry on? I don’t understand why the government has been so rigid about this.
On whether a middle path is still possible Every battle, every war has to end in an agreement, whether it was World War I or II, whether in corporate disagreements or anywhere. So, you have to sit down and resolve it. And it is for the government to come to that because they are the ones who created the Bill.
On whether he is worried a hardliner fringe in Punjab could be stoked up This is something that can always happen. I’ve seen it happening, 52 years is a long time in politics, and I’ve been through the (Operation) Blue Star period, I’ve been through the post-Blue Star period, I’ve been through the period when my chief minister (Beant Singh) was assassinated. I’ve been subsequently into the other period, it nearly started again, had we started digging the SYL (Sutlej-Yamuna Link) Canal again. I’ve got a 600-mile border, right from Akhnoor down to Fazilka, with Punjab, with Pakistan, and they have open access now. Earlier it used to be tunnelling under the wire or crossing the river, now you’ve got drones, and these will increase in capacity. At the moment, they’re small, they’ll become bigger, and then, there’ll be other things. So, that is why I went to the Home Minister and spoke to him and I said, you have to find some system of bringing these drones down.
On secularism and nationalism India has been a democracy for long. The other day, when somebody said that ‘Haryana is reserving so much for Haryanvis, and Uttarakhand is reserving so much for them, and Himachal Pradesh is so much for Himachalis’, I said, I am Indian, I am for all Indians. I don’t believe in this business of either religion or regionalism. How will this country grow if you start talking like this?
On the crisis in Congress We have made it clear that after the elections, the Congress is going to have an ICC session and elect its own president. I’m sure that is only a couple of months down the line and we should wait for that. You can’t just write off a party by saying that ‘you don’t have a leadership’, or that there is a ‘confusing message coming out from there’. The fact is that this party is more than 100 years old. This is the party that brought freedom to India. I have full faith in the Gandhi family, Rajiv and I were close friends and I have seen Priyanka and Rahul since they were very young, I hope they decide to continue in leadership role.
On fixing Punjab’s drug problem I said that in four weeks, I will break the backbone of this. There are about 4,000 people in jail who were in the drugs business. I have extradited people from Albania, Rome, and one is in the Hong Kong jail. If you ask me if drugs are in the market, of course, they are. Uri is one of the ingress points. Delhi is one of the biggest hubs. So we are fighting it, we are in touch with all states.
A military leader you admire Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, General Rommel, General Patton. They are all military leaders of my age, and then you have Napoleon, the great genius.
Your biggest regret Leaving the Army. My father went off as an Ambassador, my mother was in Parliament, my brother was in the Army, one of us had to quit. I would have loved to stay on. Of course, I am a retired soldier, but I could have carried on.
Your first love Gardening. You should come and see my garden right now, it’s in full bloom. Gardening or writing Both. They are different things. You can’t spend the whole day in your garden, but you can sit in your office…and I am writing a book now.
Favourite wartime story you can share with us. There are so many, I have written six books on military history. If you are talking about history, then I think Waterloo. Then of course, I went to Ypres, where my own regiment fought, and I followed the path with a military historian. In India, I think it’s how we contained Operation Gibraltar. When fellows sent some seven columns across and they wanted to penetrate Kashmir and operate in various areas, kill, assassinate, and how General Harbaksh Singh dealt with it.
One thing you like about our Prime Minister. I have known Mr Modi since we were chief ministers together. He was the CM of Gujarat and I of Punjab — 2000-07. He has his own outlook to life, whether you agree with that or not, but he’s determined. One thing I like about him is that he is quite clear in his mind what he wants and he goes ahead. There’s no waffling. Otherwise, I don’t agree with many of his policies. I don’t agree with his agricultural policies at all. I don’t agree with this business of turning the country into a Hindutva state.
Eminent guests who participated in the e.Adda include Sandeep Mishra, Director, Standard Chartered; Yoginder Alagh, Professor Emeritus & VC, Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research; Mahesh Munjal, CMD, Majestic Auto Ltd; Alok Agarwal, Founder & ED, Striver Capital Advisors; Gurdeep Singh, Chairman, Kloeckner Pentaplast India; Mangal Dev, Chief Executive, Hitachi; Anu Aga, Former Chairperson, Thermax Ltd; Neelkanth Mishra, Co-head of APAC Strategy – India Strategist, Credit Suisse; Bharat Kewalramani, Director, 3D Technopack; Saugata Bhattacharya, EVP and Chief Economist, Axis Bank; Atul Choksey, Chairman, Apcotex Industries; Mohit Batra, Executive Director, ICICI Venture Funds Management Co Ltd; Subhadip Dutta Choudhury, Chairman, Hawkins Cookers Ltd; Dorab Sopariwala, Editorial Adviser, NDTV; Urvashi Butalia, Director, Zubaan Publishers; Nasim Zaidi, Former CEC, Govt of India; Sudeep Lakhtakia, Former DG, NSG; Tavleen Singh, Columnist; Girish Luthra, Former Commander in Chief, Indian Navy; Fali Nariman, Senior advocate and jurist; Ayaz Memon, Journalist; Shubhada Rao, Founder, QuantEco Research; Ranganathan V, Director, India Cements Ltd; Rakhee Bhandari, Resident Commissioner, Punjab Govt; Sanjay Sachdev, Chairman, Zyfin Capital; Arvind Paranjpye, Director, Nehru Planetarium; Anshul Mathur, Vice president, Communications & Advocacy, Asia Pacific, BP; Ajit Shriram, Managing Director, DCM Shriram Ltd; Feroz Abbas Khan, Screenwriter, Theatre & Film Director