There will be no let-up on Pakistan in Modi’s second term

Interview/ Hardeep Singh Puri, Union minister and BJP candidate in Amritsar

108-Hardeep-Singh-Puri Hardeep Singh Puri

YOU ARE A Rajya Sabha member. Was it your decision or the party’s to contest the Lok Sabha elections?

It was clearly the party’s decision. If your question is, did I seek the ticket, the answer is no. Did I know about the prospects of my contesting? Yes, I have been getting signals, including from the BJP’s Punjab unit. They were very keen that I contest.

The party’s high command took a decision that a Sikh face, someone who has administrative experience and someone who will convey the impression that he enjoys the confidence of the party leadership, should contest.

Your opponents say you are an outsider.

They say I have been parachuted here. I tell them to be careful. The parachute regiments are the commandos in the armed forces. If you are saying that I am para representative, you better be careful. This election is very different from any other election.

When people in Amritsar go to vote, they will be not only electing the next prime minister of India, but also having an opportunity to send to Delhi an MP who will take their voice direct into decision-making system. There is, according to me, not a hope in hell for the Congress to form the government.

The 2019 election is all about Modi. Nationalism is a huge issue. Is the issue finding resonance here?

It is a very important issue. The previous Congress governments in its ten years undermined national security. They were less than decisive or forthcoming [in responding] to the 26/11 attack. In Mumbai, we lost 300 lives. And, yet, other than making some noises, condemning terrorism, it was business as usual. In the case of the Modi government, after Pulwama, they carried out Balakot strike. It was a decisive turn.

You had a long diplomatic career. What major changes has this government brought?

The change that the Modi government brought in the foreign policy is qualitatively very different from the old policy. This is a prime minister who deals with the president of Russia directly. He deals with the president of the United States directly. He goes to the extent of picking up a phone and using that, and that is a cutting-edge difference.

When a prime minister can pick up a phone and speak to President Trump, or to President Xi or his friend Prime Minister Abe, you are conducting foreign and security policy at an entirely different level.

In his second term, there is going to be no let-up on Pakistan and on cross-border terrorism. So the Pakistanis better realise as to what is coming.

One issue which causes anxiety among people is the talk about Sikh separatism. Sikhs For Justice, a separatist organisation, is working for Referendum 2020—a campaign for “reestablishing Punjab as a nation state”.

There has always been what I would call a reckless streak. I do not think it is a sentiment. It has been fuelled by the ISI in Pakistan, which is the core decision making machinery there. But more than that, I think this Referendum 2020 is an ISI plot. I am very happy to find that it has no takers. There are a few who receive payouts from them. Sikhs are very proud nationalist people. Punjab is all set to revive.