Rahul Gandhi will make a good prime minister: Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh

Will Punjab rise? At least, its newly appointed Chief Minister Captain Amarindar Singh believes so. He was in conversation with veteran journalist Vir Sanghi at the event Rising Punjab, which was conceptualised by the Network 18 group as a platform to define the vision for the future of Punjab. The conclave that was designed to set the development agenda for a state that has been reeling under a major drug crisis. It took place in Chandigarh on Thursday.

First and foremost, the man at the helm of state affairs in Punjab, admitted that the state is not in a financially stable situation and doesn’t have adequate funds to sustain its own work force. The state has a budgetary deficit of about Rs 28,000 crores. Unemployment, he said, is a huge problem in Punjab. A positive sign for the economy is, as he pointed out, the fact that the Congress government has developed the trust of investors. “Very soon we are expecting lots of investment in Punjab,” said the chief minister. He spoke about meeting the captains of industry in Mumbai, who are willing to come to Punjab.

File image of Captain Amarinder SIngh. AFP

File image of Captain Amarinder SIngh. AFP

Further contributing to the revenue of the state are the Mittals, who have been roped into the refinery project in Bhatinda and have spent Rs 20,000 crores initially and are now doing an expansion of Rs 22,000 crores. In terms of agriculture, high-value cash crops are being given serious attention, for which the government is in talks with Israel and Australia among others.

The other problem that has hit the state’s green revolution prosperity is its evolution into a drug haven. The chief minister declared a crackdown on drugs and terrorism, but also expressed that these problems are deep-rooted and it will take his government some time to eradicate them. “Since the time our government has taken over, drugs have become 60 percent costlier. Out-patients in rehabs are now 41 percent and in patients are approximately 8 percent,” he said and asserted that enforcement and rehabilitation will only take the state so far and unless the youth aren’t employed, it won’t be possible to pull them out of substance addiction. “Our priority is to give them jobs.”

Singh spoke about the promise of a better tomorrow and about cleaning up the mess created by the former party in power, the Shiromani Akali Dal. Vijay Sampla, BJP president, Punjab, disagreed with him. Speaking at the event, he said there is no law and order in Punjab and crime has only increased in the last few days. The Bollywood movie, Udta Punjab (2016), laid bare the drug network in Punjab and also lined the social problem to the political machinery. Drawing a reference to the movie’s title during political campaigning, Sampla said the previous government has been targetted, “In the Akali-BJP government, you have presented Punjab as Udta Punjab but now we are talking about Rising Punjab.” In fact, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Rajya Sabha member, Akali Dal went ahead and concluded that they don’t think the promises the Congress is making to the public of Punjab will be achievable in coming years. H Phoolka, AAP MLA and Leader of Opposition, Punjab, too raised the issue of the worsening law and order situation. “There is a lot of political interference in police operations. We will raise this issue in the Assembly,” he said.

The topic soon shifted from state to national-level politics and Sanghvi questioned him about the suggestion that the time is right now for a generational change in the Congress. To which he replied, “Look at the whole country, 70 percent of it is under the age of 40 and the time has come for that generational change to happen. Hopes and aspirations of the youth are different and we wanted more youngsters in the Assembly so they can learn how to run government. I have already announced that this is my last election and youngsters need to come forward and shoulder the burden of the state.”

In response to Sanghvi’s question, "Should Rahul Gandhi become Congress president,” he spoke: “Yes, I think so”. Singh feels there is a mismatch between the individual and the way he is presented by the media. He revealed he has known Rahul since the latter was a little boy and has seen him evolve in stature as a political leader. “Keeping personal aspects aside and looking at him as someone in the business of governance, I think he has done well and will do well and I wish the press would be a bit more accommodating. Everyone should be judged by their performance and not because they’re Indira Gandhi’s grandson or Rajiv Gandhi’s son.”

He called the 46-year-old very perceptive, open to ideas and a confident decision-maker. “One day, he will make a fine leader of the country and if given the opportunity, will make a good prime minister. Rahul is the future of the Congress, like the youth is future of nation so I want the youth to come forward.” Singh also confessed that he handles his own social media accounts and feels happy when youngsters reach out to him on social media, establishing an instant connect with the world’s youngest democracy.

On the question of Pakistan and India’s stand, he agreed that some kind of retaliation from India’s side was inevitable. Punjab is a border state, and as the chief minister reminded the audience, that a disruption of peaceful ties with a neighbouring country affects them adversely.

He spoke about the time when he was in power in Punjab the last time, he thought that the Punjab to Punjab (Pakistan’s Punjab) relations could act as a catalyst to improve relations and it brought in sports and culture exchanges. He also tried to sell Punjab’s surplus power to Pakistan, but recent eruptions of violence, he feels, are indicative of the fact that India’s relationship with Pakistan is strained to an extent that the two countries cannot engage in business. “Trade with Central Asia and Pakistan is important. But, I as an army man, can't take the Pakistan army mutilating our army men,” he declared.

Moving to another landscape and climate in foreign affairs, Singh also said that he didn’t meet Canada’s defence minister of Indian origin, Harjit Sajjan. The reason for this is the use of the Khalistan issue for votes. He said that even if Sajjan Singh were to come to India again, he wouldn’t meet him.

The state has a budgetary deficit of about Rs 28,000 crores. He admitted there’s no money to pay salaries, no money for development. But, in the spirit of Rising Punjab, he remarked “now we have to start from scratch. We can only go up.”

Updated Date: May 04, 2017 22:40 PM

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