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Asked about Amritpal & Khalistan, Punjab CM Mann speaks of mohalla clinics, schools & steel plants

Bhagwant Mann went off on a tangent this week when mediapersons asked about radical activist Amritpal Sandhu. Experts blame ‘political compulsion’ but warn of heavy costs.

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Chandigarh: Mediapersons were left perplexed this week when Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann answered their questions about radical activist Amritpal Sandhu with long descriptions about “social bonding” and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government’s achievements in setting up mohalla clinics and the like.

At a press conference following a cabinet meeting Tuesday, the chief minister had to field questions about Sandhu, who was booked last week for his alleged involvement in a case of rioting and abduction.

The head of a faction of a social organisation called Waris Punjab De, Sandhu is never far from controversy. He has been in the spotlight for his provocative statements openly calling for the creation of Khalistan, challenging the CM, ‘threatening’ Union Minister Amit Shah, and ‘daring’ the police to arrest him.

However, Mann steadfastly deflected all questions related to Sandhu, save for maintaining that “all is well” with the law and order front in Punjab, where the AAP came to power last March.

When asked about Sandhu taking on Amit Shah —  who had said last week that the central government would not allow Khalistani elements to raise their heads — Mann went off on a tangent about the achievements of his government.

According to Punjab expert and sociologist Manjit Singh, Mann’s refusal to take a stand on the issue reflected “irresponsibility”.

“Punjab is a very important state because it is on the international border. Even murmurs about Khalistan should be taken with utmost seriousness by the government of the day. Mann’s response reflect not immaturity but irresponsibility. And this attitude can lead to a big problem,” Singh told ThePrint Wednesday.

Also read: Radical activist Amritpal Sandhu & 5 associates booked for abduction, rioting. No arrests yet

Questions and tangents

Here is a look at Mann’s confounding responses to questions about Amritpal Sandhu and Khalistan.

Question: Questions are often raised about the law and order situation in Punjab. Amritpal has recently said that we are demanding our own raaj (self rule) and neither Bhagwant Mann nor the Centre can deter us from this. What do you have to say about such hate speeches? Amritpal has even targeted the home minister with this.

The CM’s reply: Punjab is known for its social bonding. We believe in the oneness of humanity going beyond divisions of caste and religion. Three crore people of Punjab have chosen the Punjab government. We are taking pro people’s decisions. As far as law and order is concerned, all is well and in control.

Today also, the police are carrying out checks at various places. We are nabbing gangsters every day. Every day in coordination with BSF, we are recovering drones etc. being sent by our neighbouring country. Had law and order been as bad as it is projected then would big companies choose to come to Punjab?

Tata Steel, a major name in steel, has its biggest plant in Jamshedpur and the second biggest, it is setting up in Ludhiana. A big company like that considers all factors before making a decision like this. Sanatan Textiles is going to set up a Rs 2,000 crore plant in Punjab. You must all come on 23rd and 24th (Punjab Investment Summit) and talk to the businessmen yourself about their plans for Punjab. We will bring in real investment, not just click pictures.

We have to make Punjab an industrial state which will generate employment. We are already number one in India in agriculture and we will reach some position in the industry as well then the law and order issues or those who give hate speeches will themselves… Our focus is on the functioning of the government and working for the people.

Question: You just talked about hate speech. Several groups in Punjab including small ones have been giving provocative statements that further complicate issues. Do you have any plan to curb these?

The CM’s reply: Power bills are now zero, 117 schools of eminence have opened. The portal for admission (to these schools) is now open. (Students can) choose from MBBS, IIT, NDA and Law. Five hundred mohalla clinics have opened up and we are creating more. We have a zero tolerance policy towards corruption. We are improving infrastructure and we are shutting down toll plazas. We have opened sand mining khads for the public from where they can buy sand for Rs 5.50.

‘Political compulsion’?

According to sociologist Singh, Mann’s evasion of questions about Khalistan and Sandhu are reflective of a “political compulsion”.

“We have to understand that just like any other political party, for the Aam Aadmi Party, remaining in power takes priority over the people who have elected them to power,” he said.

“The reason that they do not want to take any stand over the issue of Amritpal, or let’s say Khalistan, is because they do not want to get into a controversy that brings them into direct confrontation with radical forces on one side and the minorities on the other side,” he added.

Shedding further light on the calculus of AAP, Professor Singh said: “If they take a stand against Khalistan, they believe that they will lose out on the support of the radical Sikh elements. If they take a stand against Khalistan then they lose out on the 45 per cent vote share of the minorities put together. So they try to evade these questions as much as they can.”

He also said that with radicalism on the rise in the state, keeping up the silence on these matters could have dangerous consequences.

Why Sandhu is causing controversy

Last Tuesday, Amit Shah had in an interview to a news agency said that the Centre was keeping a close watch on the happenings in Punjab. He said various Khalistani elements raising their heads in the state will not be allowed to thrive, adding that the situation was under control and the Centre was working in close coordination with the state government.

Reacting to Shah’s statement, Sandhu told mediapersons Sunday that “every child” in Punjab wanted Khalistan and nobody could stop them from demanding it.

He noted that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had also tried to suppress this movement: “What did she gain out of it? Let Amit Shah also try (to suppress Khalistan).”

However, Sandhu rejected the interpretation that he had threatened Shah, and told mediapersons Wednesday that it was the home minister who was threatening those demanding Khalistan.

“If India claims to be a democracy then why should the home minister talk about suppressing the aspirations of just one community? Why has he never spoken up about suppressing those demanding a Hindu rashtra?” he asked.

Sandhu, who has lately intensified his activities after an FIR was registered against him and his associates for beating up a Chamkaur Sahib resident, has also been issuing deadlines to the Punjab government to release one of his associates arrested in the case, daring the police to arrest him instead.

On Wednesday, he issued yet another deadline to the state government saying that if the police did not cancel the FIR against him and his associates by Thursday, he along with his supporters would reach Ajnala and offer themselves up for arrest.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

Also read: Fiery orator, ‘Bhindranwale 2.0’ — who’s Amritpal Singh, new ‘head’ of Deep Sidhu’s Waris Punjab De


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