Months after he accused Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan of being a Khalistani sympathiser and said he wouldn’t meet him during his visit to Punjab, Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh has now raised the pitch. Singh has said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should not allow his government to become a hotbed of terrorist supporters and reign in anti-India and pro-Khalistan elements in his government. Singh’s comments about Sajjan were made at ThePrint’s ‘Off The Cuff’ event and drew a swift rebuttal from Canada.
In an interview to Associate Editor Chitleen K. Sethi, Singh also spoke about his first 100 days in office, the Congress’ national strategy, GST and growing instances of ‘intolerance’ in the country.
You have taken a strong stand against Khalistan and its supporters among NRIs in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is slated to visit India later this year. You think Punjab government needs to review its harsh stand and be more open and welcoming given the huge NRI population there?
I have never said no to anyone visiting Punjab. I did not stop even the Canadian defence minister from coming here but, as a matter of principle, refuse to meet anyone found to have any links with terrorist groups.
As far as the Canadian Prime Minister is concerned, my only request to him (which I am willing to meet him and make personally too) is that he should reign in any elements in his government that are suspected of having anti-India and pro-Khalistani leanings and should not allow his government to become a hotbed of terrorist supporters.
Four of his ministers and six MPs are involved with the World Sikh Organization (WSO) directly or indirectly. And WSO wants Khalistan.
What is your take on Meira Kumar, the opposition candidate for Presidential post? Why do you think Nitish Kumar is not supporting her?
She is an excellent candidate with a popular mass appeal. It’s only that we announced her candidature late. Had we done it earlier we would have many others supporting her. As far as Nitish is concerned, I think he is looking beyond what the immediate agenda is.
What in candid terms is your one big advice to the Congress to become a more effective national opposition?
I don’t agree with the refrain that Congress is in the dumps and finished. There was a time when BJP had only two seats. Nothing in politics lasts forever. Congress should nurture strong regional leadership and give it more teeth. Also it is bringing together all like-minded parties to work as a more effective opposition. Finally, it is time to hand over the party reins to the next generation and Rahul should be elevated to take over the party’s reins.
Why has Congress not been able to keep the other opposition parties together on the GST issue? Most of them landed at the GST midnight rollout.
How can you equate a tax reform to national freedom? It is ridiculous. The boycott was the right thing to do. I do not remember the Congress asking its allies to join the boycott. It was a principled decision which the Congress took for itself. The other parties might have had political or regional compulsions.
You think GST will benefit Punjab?
As a state, GST will be beneficial to us. We are expecting an additional Rs 5,000 crore and we need that money. GST was a Congress baby and Dr. Manmohan Singh had capped the tax rate at 18 per cent, while now on some items it is as high as 48 per cent.
In view of the recent lynching incidents in the name of cow protection and beef ban, almost all directed against Muslims, do you think we have become an intolerant nation?
Yes, we have become an intolerant nation. It is unfortunate. The Prime Minister has, however, made it clear that such incidents will not be tolerated. Now it is up to him to ensure that such incidents do not happen. Eating habits should not be a matter of government control and I do not personally support any such ban. It is obvious that attempts are being made to foster communalism across the country, including in Punjab which has witnessed several incidents of sacrilege in recent past.
How do you rate your 100 days in office?
I am satisfied, but not 100 per cent because that would mean I have achieved what I had set out to do. There is a long way to go but in three months we have unleashed the necessary momentum to take on the remaining period of our tenure with increased confidence.
What do you think have been your most noteworthy achievements?
The successful crackdown on drugs, elimination of VIP culture, kick-starting of the industrial revival process and the waiver of loans for small and marginal farmers are the achievements I am proud of. And we did this despite the deep-rooted mess, financial and otherwise, we inherited from the previous government.
There is no support coming from the Centre on farm loan waivers. How will you pull it off?
That is the reason we could not go the whole hog on farm loan waivers. Had the Centre pitched in we would have brought in a wider base in its ambit. Now, we have gone in for limited waiver of farm debts reaching out to the most affected.
Cabinet minister Rana Gurjit landed in a controversy on the mining issue. Do you think it amounts to corruption or conflict of interest if a businessman-politician of your party participates in an open bid for mining or liquor licence or transport business in Punjab. Will you allow such business activities among your colleagues?
There is absolutely no ban on politicians bidding for businesses in the state provided the process they participate in is transparently executed. How can I stop businessmen politicians from doing business? I have agriculture farms. Should I stop my work because I am now CM?
Editor’s Note: Capt. Amarinder Singh’s response to the question on Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has been updated following a detailed response from the Punjab Chief Minister’s office.