New Delhi/Chandigarh, March 17:

Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Saturday dismissed Arvind Kejriwal’s apology to Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia as an antic that not only reflected the AAP national convenor’s political inexperience but also appeared to be a desperate attempt to reduce the burden of defamation cases against him before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

In conversation with noted media personality Vir Sanghvi at Network18 and TV18’s Rising India Summit here, the Chief Minister, at his candid best, quipped that Kejriwal was always `jumping here and there’. “I don’t know why he does that but this is no way for a chief minister to behave, irrespective of his lack of experience,” said Captain Amarinder.

No government can function in isolation but Kejriwal had completely isolated himself, said the Chief Minister, adding that AAP had completely lost ground in all states. Kejriwal seemed to have apologised to Majithia over drug charges possibly to prepare for next year’s polls but the fact was that things had changed for the worse for him, Captain Amarinder added.

On the AAP future in Punjab, the Chief Minister said the party’s MLAs were totally disappointed and were reportedly looking for alternatives in order to safeguard their own future. The decline in AAP, added Captain Amarinder, had taken place over a period of time and the party’s MLAs were completely disillusioned with their leadership.

Citing the change in public mood, Captain Amarinder expressed the optimism that the Congress would form the next government at the Centre, either on its own or in a coalition with like-minded parties.

Asked about the mood in the Congress following the Tripura results and the subsequent bypoll results in UP and Bihar, the Chief Minister said all political parties had their ups and downs. The Congress might be down at the moment but that did not mean it would always remain down, he said, expressing the confidence that there would be change in 2019.

The TDP decision to disassociate themselves from NDA a year before LS elections showed the disenchantment in the ruling coalition and the prevailing mood of the nation, which was looking at a UPA sort of alliance as an alternative, he added. Punjab, where the Congress winning spree continued into the MC polls, was extremely response to the national mood and the state reflected the party’s strength ahead of the LS polls, he added.

Acknowledging that the Congress had fared badly in recent past, Captain Amarinder said the people’s expectations from any government were high and if the BJP fails to deliver to those then they will vote some other party. With 75% of India’s population now comprising youth under 35 years, any government would need to respond to their concerns and aspirations, said the Chief Minister, pointing to his own government’s efforts to do so in Punjab, where his main target was to provide jobs to the 9 million unemployed youth. Citing the success of the job melas organised by his government in Punjab, Captain Amarinder said any government at the Centre would need to take those kind of initiatives to connect with the youth.

On Rahul Gandhi as the prospective Prime Minister of India, Captain Amarinder said he saw this to be an absolute possibility and that Rahul would make a good PM. The Chief Minister was all praised for the way Rahul had matured as a political leader, as evidenced by the response he had got in the United States and was getting all over India. The presence of a full and active crowd at the ongoing AICC plenary session also showed that people were looking up at him, said Captain Amarinder, ruling out any element of sycophancy in the response of the party members to Rahul’s leadership.

To a question on the drugs menace in Punjab, the Chief Minister described the STF’s crackdown as a success, pointing to the number of arrests and seizures. Some big fish had run away but will eventually be caught, he asserted, adding that there was massive pressure on the drugs traders and smugglers. The situation on the ground had definitely improved, as endorsed by the high prices of drugs in the state, which was the result of shortage of the same, he added.

Though there had been a decline in the number of farmer suicides in Punjab, the situation continued to be grim, said Captain Amarinder on the agrarian crisis in the country. The Chief Minister, who had earlier presented a resolution on farmers at the AICC plenary session, cited a host of factors for the distress among the farming community. Farming had become non-remunerative and it was not possible for the small farmers, who constituted the bulk of the community in Punjab, to survive, he added.

Pointing to central government’s failure to pay MSP and the critical decline in river and sub-soil water levels, Captain Amarinder said with the small farmers unable to afford tubewells, Punjab was headed for a major crisis, which was why he felt ashamed to penalise them for stubble burning. He admitted that Punjab contributed to Delhi’s pollution but made it clear that the problem did not begin from there but originated in Pakistan. He also flayed the Centre over its refusal to shell out Rs 100 per acre for crop residue management by the farmers.

An ex-Army man and a military historian, Captain Amarinder also spared no words in condemning the inadequate budget allocation for the defence sector, which had led to lopsided planning in terms of purchase of equipment for all the three wings. He laid the blame for this as much on the Congress as on the BJP-led NDA, saying neither had made sufficient funds available to equip the defence services to meet the challenges from across the borders. How can one expect the defence personnel to fight without being armed properly, he asked, terming the whole thing as absurd.

Asked about the possibility of his standing for a second term, the Chief Minister said if his government failed in putting Punjab, which they had found to be in a bigger crisis than they had envisaged, back on its feet in this term then he would be there to contest again.


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