After he won two Vidhan Sabha polls in continuation while also ensuring his party stands victorious in local bodies’ polls across the state in past ten years, the Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal was once being seen as the master of micro management of elections. However, his party has now lost the recently held Vidhan Sabha polls with just 17 out of total 117 seats coming in its kitty that too in alliance with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In order to learn his state of mind after the debacle while also carrying a curiosity to take his reaction over 131 ‘pro-people’ decisions of Captain Amarinder Singh’s Cabinet, DailyPost Assistant Editor Rajay Deep on Monday held a freewheeling discussion with him. Here are the excerpts:
What went wrong that despite being so confident of winning for third consecutive time, your party in alliance with BJP could not even secure the second position?
We did our best to serve the state, but people rather than appreciating us opted for a change. We have accepted the verdict of the people of Punjab ‘in all humility and honesty.’ I am sure that within few months people would start realising that they took a wrong decision.
Whom would you blame for the loss- your own partymen or some outsiders?
There is no question of blaming our own partymen as they all fought the poll with full strength. I have no hitch in admitting that there was an anti-incumbency wave prevalent in the state for the SAD-BJP alliance ruling it for ten consecutive years, which was also an exception in the Punjab’s Vidhan Sabha polls. Now, the Congress has won with a good enough number of seats but behind its victory the Aam Aadmi Party’s role can’t be ignored.
When the Congress and AAP were contesting against each other to win the battle, how can the AAP be credited for Congress victory?
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), riding high on the hype created by media and social media, painted a picture as if the contest was only between the Congress and AAP. They presented a scene that there was a dire need to replace the SAD-BJP alliance and in that mission they launched a massive campaign against us. Under such circumstances, people had started believing in them as the two main rivals, keeping the SAD-BJP alliance at position three. But the AAP scored a self goal after its leaders started visiting radicals while also people suspecting their hand in Maur Mandi blasts. People of Punjab wanted to leave in peace and having put us already on number three, the urban voters polled in favour of the Congress.
Alike others, you too had hired a team of experts to handle social media. Do you think that it could achieve the target?
I don’t want to get into such deep analysis at this stage but one thing is there that social media befooled the voters of the state with fake branding of the political parties. The hype of Congress and AAP, without doing anything on ground, was all result of the social media.
After this pathetic defeat, people are now comparing you with Chautalas of Haryana, who are consistently losing the Vidhan Sabha polls since 2005.
It is wrong if one is making such comparisons. Without saying anything against the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) of Chautalas, I would like to apprise you that we have gained 31 per cent of the total votes polled in the state. The SAD is party known for its sacrifices and struggles. This win and loss is part of the democratic system. I am pretty confident that within months we will again be back in action and win the Lok Sabha 2019 polls with good margin.
What will be your strategy to revive the party after this deep shock?
The Shiromani Akali Dal is a cadre-based party that has ruled for 15 years in the past two decades. This time people wanted a change which they have done. Having political understanding, I can say that it is just a temporary phase that will soon be over. And see, despite losing the polls, we are so strong from inside that we are touring the state to express gratitude towards our voters and supporters.
There are reports about bitterness in the SAD and BJP relations after the debacle, what’s your take on that?
These are all baseless rumours. The SAD and BJP are time-tested allies. There is no difference between us and both of the parties have accepted the mandate with large heart and utmost humility. I would also appeal to the masses not to get driven by the fake reports.
The newly-formed Cabinet under the leadership of Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh passed 130 agenda items, which included ending VIP culture and much more that relates to masses. How do you see this development?
I have read the complete list that Amarinder’s Cabinet passed on Saturday. After going through the whole, I learnt that Amarinder Singh has tried to cover his incapabilities through some cosmetic decisions, like removing the beacons atop the vehicles. People in Punjab want the redressal of their grievances with a proper roadmap of the development. The Congress had promised farm debt waiver but despite all hype, the Cabinet did not take any decision on it and just to buy time a committee has been formed. Further, some announcements like launching a compassionate treatment design for drug de-addiction are just baseless as such patients are already being handled this way. The Cabinet announced abolition of DTO office, which we had already done but in a proper manner by launching online system. They have now decided to go for third party audit of some departments, which is just a time killing and befooling exercise as we have already get it done in our regime. Further, the Cabinet decided to get the ministers’ domestic and foreign medical bills reimbursed through insurance agencies, which is practically impossible as the agencies, due to different reasons including age factor, can’t even offer them protection cover. I know various more flaws in the much-hyped announcements, but I have opted for giving them long rope with a confidence that soon the new government will itself get exposed.
You had displayed a long list of achievements and fought the poll with development agenda, which people outrightly rejected. Now, can you share few unfulfilled dreams which you had seen for the state?
In the past ten years, Punjab witnessed all-round development of infrastructure. We put lot of efforts to bring the state power surplus. No one can deny our contribution in providing the state a matchless road network and also establishing various memorials. The list of our achievements is huge, which gives me inner satisfaction. Still, few things needed more time to see the light of the day. Though we gave a major facelift to Amritsar with creating Heritage plaza and much more, I wanted to make Amristar the country’s most beautiful city and for that various projects were designed. I had also chalked out all modalities to cover the whole of 12,500 villages of Punjab with civic amenities as we did in the cities and towns. The urban sector also wanted some more up-gradation of infrastructure but now people have distanced us from executing the things.
Your party in alliance with BJP stood at position three. So, now not being considered as the main opposition, what will be your role in Vidhan Sabha?
Whatever the position we have achieved, I can assure you that the SAD-BJP MLAs would put their best to check the government taking wrong steps. At the same hand, I wish to clarify that we have never played negative role, so even in this capacity too we will perform constructive role and support the government if the moves are genuinely in the interest of the state and its people. But I am upset to see some of the initial decisions of the new government which included the recalling of unutilised funds from all govt departments as it would stop the whole of ongoing projects.