After being ousted from the chief minister's chair, Amarinder Singh is in a combative mood, taking on his rivals in the party, including state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu. In an interview with THE WEEK, Singh said he had offered to resign earlier, but was persuaded to stay on by Sonia Gandhi. He said Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were inexperienced and were misguided by their advisers. Throwing an open challenge to the Congress, he said he would do his best to keep Sidhu out of power. Excerpts:
Q. You spoke about feeling humiliated. Whom do you blame for this?
A. I don’t really know who is responsible and who took the decision to move in this manner. What does seem to be clear now is that Rahul and Priyanka, who are themselves quite inexperienced, were fed all kind of nonsense by their advisers like (AICC general secretary) K.C. Venugopal. It is unfortunate that after [me putting in] so many years of loyal service to the Congress, the party leadership chose to trust them over me. Especially after I delivered every election to them in the past four and a half years.
Q. You spoke to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. What did she have to say?
A. I told her that I felt I was left with no option but to step down, given the way I had been treated and humiliated. She said she was sorry. We did not have any detailed discussion on the political developments. That was done earlier, when I had met her in Delhi. I had told her then that Navjot Sidhu and I don’t see eye to eye, and since he’s now the PPCC president, I would like to be relieved. But she refused and asked me to continue.
Q. Critics say there is severe anti-incumbency against your government.
A. Who are these critics you are referring to? Sidhu, who is only interested in grabbing the chief ministerial chair? Or those handful of MLAs who were apparently cut up because some of their personal jobs were not attended to? If there is anti-incumbency, how did the Congress win every election in the past four and a half years with me at the helm? Whether it was Lok Sabha polls or the urban body and panchayat elections, we swept them all. Ask the people what they feel, let them be the judge.
Q. You said party legislators were rallied against you on three occasions in the last few months. Who mobilised the MLAs?
A. My guess is that it was Sidhu and some people in Delhi. He has been leading the rebellion and has been responsible for creating rifts in the Punjab Congress. I don’t know at whose behest he did this. Maybe to fulfil his own ambitions. Since his friend is prime minister of Pakistan, maybe he thought the least he can do is to become chief minister of Punjab.
Q. It is said that Rahul and Priyanka were in favour of Sidhu leading the party in the upcoming elections.
A. I cannot say what they wanted or favoured. But having known them for so long, I personally feel they are still inexperienced in many ways and have been misguided by their advisers. This does not augur well for the Congress, because I personally feel it would be a feat if the party touches double digits in the 2022 assembly polls under Sidhu’s leadership.
Q. What reservations do you have with Sidhu as the leader of the Congress in Punjab?
A. As local government minister, he did not clear files for seven months at a go. Also, his friendship with the Pakistani leadership is a cause of serious concern for Punjab, which is a border state and whose security scenario is linked to national security. What kind of message are we sending by projecting him as leader of the state’s ruling party, and perhaps even its CM face? The Congress needed a sincere person who cares for Punjab and its people more than his own interests, and whose integrity is above board. Punjab neither needs nor deserves a comedy master who thinks entertaining people is the way to their hearts.
Q. How do you view the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as your successor?
A. An effort is being made to portray him as a puppet in the hands of Sidhu, who controls all his decisions and actions. And the rest is taken care of from Delhi, as is evident in the way the new CM and his deputies, along with Sidhu, had gone to meet party leaders there to discuss cabinet formation.
Q. You have said that the political developments do not augur well for national security.
A. Sidhu’s bonhomie with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Bajwa is a cause of major concern for Punjab and the nation. Every day they are killing our soldiers at the borders, which Punjab shares with Pakistan. They are pushing weapons and drugs via drones on a regular basis. There have been many cases of tiffin box bombs being rigged and planted by Pak-backed terrorists. We have busted many terror modules supported from across the border. Yet, in the midst of all this, Sidhu goes around hugging the Pakistanis and praising them openly. How can a person like him be expected to ensure the safety and security of Punjab? The signal the Congress has sent with his elevation is not in national interest.
Q. Is it now curtains on a long and glorious political career?
A. Definitely not. Punjab needs me now more than ever before. It is my responsibility as a Punjabi to do my best to protect my state and my people from such anti-nationals like Sidhu, who are a danger for all of us. I have taken on the mantle of saving Punjab and the whole nation from the danger he poses to us. I will do whatever it takes to stop Sidhu from becoming chief minister. I will put up a strong candidate against him in 2022.
Q. Will you continue to be in the Congress?
A. I need time to think through things and decide my future course of action. I am discussing with my friends and will take a decision after taking their advice and suggestions.
Q. What about the speculation that you could be looking at the BJP?
A. You can continue speculating while I continue thinking.