FE Exclusive | Punjab elections: Harsimrat Kaur Badal says SAD-BSP to sweep polls; Congress, AAP in for a rude shock

Harsimrat Kaur Badal said that the repeal of farm laws could not wash away the BJP’s deeds and that mending ties with the saffron party was simply out of the question. 

Harsimrat Kaur Badal said that the repeal of farm laws could not wash away the BJP's deeds and that mending ties with the saffron party was simply out of the question. 

The Punjab assembly elections are expected to see a photo finish with the entry of new players making it a multi-cornered contest. While pollsters predict a direct battle between the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party, the Shiromani Akali Dal hopes to turn the tide even as Captain Amarinder Singh joining hands with the BJP adds a new dimension. 

In an exclusive conversation with FinancialExpress.com, senior Akali Dal leader and former Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal exuded confidence of her party’s victory in the elections a few months from now. She also said that the repeal of farm laws could not wash away the BJP’s deeds and that mending ties with the saffron party was simply out of the question. 

Edited excerpts from the interview:   

How do you expect the Shiromani Akali Dal to perform in these elections? 

I think an indication of that should be clear by the 100 years of Akali Dal celebrations which were held a few days ago in Moga… The kind of a massive gathering we saw clearly shows that there is absolute anger against the ruling government and people are out on the roads wanting to change the government. The government has failed to fulfil a single promise to the extent that they had to change their own chief minister. Their own MLAs realised that their government was a big failure. And they thought that by changing the face on top and by dumping all the negativity on him, they would be able to get away. But people have seen through this and I am very confident that this alliance of Shiromani Akali Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party is set to sweep the next elections and get down to governance which has been missing in the last five years.      

How many seats do you expect your party to win?

I can tell you very confidently that we will sail through a majority and have a very comfortable and solid, stable government because Punjab has suffered in the last five years. We have fallen in every parameter… even if you look at the latest COVID figures, the number of deaths was the highest in Punjab. People are fed up of being ruled by Delhi through puppets. 

Shiromani Akali Dal has 10 years of governance to show, be it making the state surplus, making the network of roads that connects every corner of Punjab within two hours — our highways are something which are parallel to any foreign country — whether its our airports or our welfare schemes. We have a history of delivering more than what we have promised. Congress comes with a baggage of not just non-delivery, they even swore on our holy book to deliver and failed on every front. So people are now questioning them, which is why they are out on the streets demanding their rights. 

Congress has appointed Charanjit Singh Channi as the new chief minister of Punjab, who is a Dalit face. Your party has also joined hands with Mayawati’s BSP, which is primarily a Dalit party. How do you see this changing the poll outcome? 

See, people are very intelligent, you cannot fool them. Charanjit Singh Channi was made CM under duress because they had to remove Amarinder Singh. Congress high command decides sitting in Delhi who should rule Punjab. They wanted Sunil Jakhar, then they decided that a Hindu face would not be accepted. Then they thought of Ambika Soni, parachuting her here, that didn’t work out… then they thought of Sukhjinder Randhawa who is now the Home minister. When the consensus wasn’t built on that, then eventually it was decided that just to pacify everybody, to have a Sikh face and to have a Dalit card, to neutralise the BSP-SAD alliance, as a last resort, Channi was made the chief minister. And the sad part is they do not consider him competent enough to announce him as the next CM face with whom Congress will go into the elections. 

Sacrilege cases, along with the drug menace, have formed the crux of the electoral campaign of the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party against the Akali Dal…

Congress has a history of using religion in Punjab to divide and rule. Be it 1980s when they attacked our holy Akal Takht and the Golden Temple, whether it’s the massacre of ’84 where genocide was committed on the Sikhs, these were all for political gains. The years of terrorism that Punjab saw was because because Congress had certain intentions which were not meant for the benefit of the state. We are proud to say that we are a party which is peace-loving, which works on the ideology set down by our Gurus, which works for humanity, and peace and prosperity for all. 

People have seen through how in 2015-16, the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party talked up the sacrilege issue, not giving the Shiromani Akali Dal time to even sort it out and demanding that it be handed over to the CBI within three weeks, and taking it out of our hands. For the last five years (you have been) using the issue — something very sentimental and close to the people’s hearts — as a political tool to whip up emotions against the Shiromani Akali Dal. You had five years to sort out those cases, but you did nothing except indulge in political vendetta… even the honourable High Court gave strict instructions against the SIT head Kunwar Vijay Pratap who has now joined the Aam Aadmi Party and exposed what Congress and Aam Aadmi Party were doing.

On the drugs issue, Congress swore on the holy Gutka (a handbook of Gurbani) that they would get rid of it within four weeks. Instead, drugs are now home delivered by the Congress and their police, and hundreds of youth have died. People are fed up because no one is taking any action. Despite having five years, and failing to have solved sacrilege (case) or put an end to drugs, they want to use it as a whipping tool. There have been hundreds of incidents of sacrilege in the last five years. Forget about solving them, they just want to keep it alive as an emotional issue which is to be whipped up every time elections come. People are not going to accept that. The kind of allegations they levelled against us, for them it’s only politics but for us, it’s our Guru and we promise to get rid of this allegation by bringing the real culprits to justice. 

Akali Dal had a long history of alliance with the BJP until you broke ties with the BJP over the farmers’ demand for repeal of farm laws. Now that the Centre has repealed the farm laws and also agreed to consider other demands, is there any scope of reconciliation?

Right from the time these three ordinances were brought and tabled at the Cabinet meeting, I tried everything I could to convince the leadership that this must be delayed or postponed unless the stakeholders have been consulted and their grievances addressed. I was a lone voice in that huge majoritarian Cabinet where not once but 3-4 times, I appealed and I even begged that please do not do it. Despite being assured that before it comes to the Parliament and it is made a law, we will address all these issues, the first Session which came a month and a half later (the Monsoon Session), it was the first item that was tabled despite no farmers being consulted. 

I had written a letter to (Narendra Singh) Tomar Sahab, our president (Sukhbir Singh Badal), listing out all the issues which had not been resolved. But just on the sheer strength of numbers, they passed it through both the Houses in front of me. Shiromani Akali Dal has always been a farmers’ party, farming is the backbone of Punjab, everything is dependent on farming, and you bring laws which people have been opposing for six months, they have been sitting on railway tracks, and you bring it up in this high-handed way. While Congress along with Aam Aadmi Party which is the Opposition party in Punjab, aided the BJP by walking out and reducing the number so that the bills could be passed easily, I went and gave my resignation, came back and Sukhbir and myself were the two voices that opposed it loudly when everyone was supporting this. 

And I am glad that we did that because today, it has been proven that what we were opposing was absolutely right, and if they had listened to us, the 700 farmers who have lost their lives in the course of this one year of agitation would today be alive. Also, what it has done to the social fabric of Punjab, what it has done to the economy of Punjab, to the financial environment of Punjab, what has been brought about by the BJP via these three laws is really sad. It has done a lot of damage and the scars are deep… being called terrorists, being called parijeevi (parasite), being called atankwadis (terrorists) and Khalistani, the way they were beaten up, the way cases of ‘deshdroh’ and UAPA were slapped on them, I mean what all have these people not gone through in the last one year? You cannot just wash it away by taking back the laws. The scars are deep, the wounds are raw, and it will take a long time to heal. There is no question of Shiromani Akali Dal going back to the BJP. 

The Aam Aadmi Party plans to bring the Delhi model to Punjab and has promised several freebies if it comes to power. The Congress and your party have also announced similar schemes lately. Is this an acknowledgement that the AAP has emerged as a major player in the contest? 

In 2017, all pollsters and the Aam Aadmi Party itself claimed that they were going to get 100 out of 117 seats and they ended up getting up 20. This was when Aam Aadmi Party was at an all-time high. In the last five years where they have been a major opposition party, the people have seen through what their 20 MLAs did. Over the last five years, 11 of them have already joined the Congress, the rest are already sitting in the current chief minister’s cart. They were always the B-Team of the Congress like they are in Delhi. They were just an extension, an offshoot of the Congress party. So when we talk about Kejriwal coming here and making these wild promises, the first question which the people of Punjab ask… all that you are promising in Punjab, you’ve been in Delhi for close to 10 years, why have you not delivered them to the people there? Are there no women in Delhi? When you say you will give Rs 1000 in every woman’s account, are there no poor people in Delhi? Why hasn’t it reached their account when he is already in government? Or when he talks about giving 300 units of electricity, why has he not given it over there? So, all these wild promises he is making here, people wonder why it has not been implemented in Delhi. 

The man in last 10 years of his rule has not been able to clear the pollution of Delhi. I mean he is coughing himself and has to run to Bangalore for vipasana or come to Punjab to breathe the clean air. If he is not able to clean the air of Delhi, what is he going to clean in Punjab? So all these things, giving an appeal in the high court that all the thermal plants should be shut down because Delhi has to suffer; coming to Punjab and saying that Punjab’s water will remain in Punjab and then going to the Supreme Court and putting an appeal that Delhi needs the Punjab water, these double-face things have been seen through. And yes, he has thousands of crores which he and his Congress counterparts here are spending on advertising, putting up hoardings, flooding the social media, but if elections could be won just on the basis of money, then nobody would bother doing any delivery on the ground. 

So, I think there is going to be a major reality check. Not only is the Congress going to be wiped out but Aam Aadmi is in for the rudest shock of their life. He is a chief minister who has time to go running off to every state in which there is an election going on. Kejriwal is one day in Uttarakhand, one day in Goa, one day in UP, ten days in Punjab, then going to Gujarat. What is happening to Delhi? The chief minister has no time for Delhi. So Punjab needs a full time local chief minister, we have had enough of these puppet chief ministers controlled from Delhi. 

Your party says that the BJP has been insensitive towards the requirements of farmers. What do you promise to the farmers if your party comes to power?

We have promised that if we come into the government, if the people give us a mandate once again, not only will we bring in MSP for fruits and vegetables, but for milk as well. We will also, from our tax rate, reduce by Rs 10 the diesel for farming people, we will also bring around crop insurance; every year we are seeing, due to the weather, due to different kinds of diseases which come, huge losses for farmers of Rs 50,000 per acre will be the insurance for every farmer where the premium will be paid by the government. So we will do whatever we can to try and make farming profitable because if the farmer is prosperous, then Punjab is prosperous. 

What is your party’s view on Captain Amarinder Singh’s replacement as the chief minister and the infighting within the Congress? How do you think this element will have an impact on the election results?

It is going to have major repurcussions. By removing Amarinder Singh, Congress has itself admitted that they had failed. Why did it take them four and a half years? Because they wanted to do it six months before polls and try and befool the people that it was Amarinder Singh who could not deliver. Now suddenly this new government should be given an opportunity for five years? The people are not foolish. Like Sukhbir says, “If you change the driver, the car is still the same”. 

Amarinder Singh had to take an unceremonious exit from the Congress after which he joined hands with the BJP and Mr Dhindsa’s party. How do you see this alliance to be a competition in the upcoming elections? 

In Punjabi there is a word ‘gaddars’ (traitors). So, people will give a befitting reply to these gaddars. Amarinder Singh got exactly what he deserved. He did not step out of his palace for four and a half years. Even his MLAs and ministers could not meet him. You will be surprised that in these four and a half years, he didn’t even go to the Secretariat for four and a half days. So imagine, Punjab was remote controlled by one retired officer who had access to him and how much could that officer care? So obviously there was major anger not just in the people, but even within his own MLAs. He got exactly what he deserved, he should have got it much earlier. After his exit, the scramble in those 90 days for chief ministership and ministership saw another kind of fight. Now, the party president has his own set of people who he is promoting, the chief minister is promoting his own and all the others are aspiring to be doing their own bidding, putting at loggerheads with each other which has made the election very interesting. 

On the BSF jurisdiction row, Punjab CM has moved court seeking that the Centre’s order be withdrawn. He claimed in an interview to The Indian Express that the state of Punjab is safe and there is no threat made out that can justify the Centre’s steps. This comes in stark contrast to the assertions made by his predecessor Amarinder Singh. Where does your party stand on these contradictions?  

When Channi became the chief minister and went to meet the Home Minister of India, the first thing he said when he came out of the meeting was that Punjab faces several threats and I have asked the Home Minister to tighten security. So he came out of that meeting after giving his approval for the extension of the BSF and sat and did nothing for the one month when he was already told that it was going to be done. It’s only when it came out in public domain and Akali Dal made a hue and cry about it saying we will not allow this to happen under any circumstances and if our government comes in, we will send this order back and refuse it to be implemented, that’s when Channi woke up to it. As far as Akali Dal is concerned, we are clear that this is absolutely wrong for the state government to allow because no central government could have done this without taking the state government into confidence. Channi, in his inexperience, got carried away by whatever story was given by the Home ministry and only when Akali Dal made a hue and cry, he woke up to it and now they are trying to do damage control. So, the people are bearing the brunt of either the Maharaja ruling the state or inexperienced people being put at the helm of affairs whose only agenda is to earn as much money as they can in the few days that they have left in government. 

But the Centre says that extension of BSF jurisdiction has nothing to do with the police powers in the state…

I think there is a simple question which needs to be asked. The BSF jurisdiction has been increased to stop the drugs trade, the arms or to stop the drones. But BSF has been manning it for decades and if they could not stop all this within the 15 km jurisdiction that they have, what are they going to stop now when they have 50 kms? This nonsense of BSF going into anyone’s home to search, arrest, seize, is not acceptable, this is encroaching of the federal rights of the state.

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