SAD is the only party with a strong presence across Punjab: Sukhbir Singh Badal

By Express News Service

After snapping ties with the BJP at the Centre and in Punjab over the contentious farm laws, the Shiromani Akali Dal has tied up with BSP in the upcoming Assembly poll in the agrarian state. Talking to Harpreet Bajwa, party president and former deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal says his party alone has a strong presence across all three regions of the state.

How many seats do you think the SAD-BSP alliance will win? Will you be able to form next government?

I think the SAD is being vastly underestimated. This is mainly because of the monopolisation of poll surveys by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). AAP is misusing its Rs 850-crore advertising budget to influence voters. There is a groundswell for the pro-people, especially social welfare, policies of the SAD and we are confident of winning 75 seats.

Reports from the ground suggest your party has improved a lot during the last one month. What has led to this?

One is the complete crumbling of Congress. It tried to befool people by effecting a change in guard. However, its Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has been completely exposed as a man who has not only misused the SC card but also engaged in corruption. Similarly the AAP is being viewed as a party of outsiders, which is actually doing its utmost to install Arvind Kejriwal as Chief Minister of the state.

It is perceived that the main fight in the Assembly election is between the Congress, SAD and AAP?

This varies from region to region. SAD alone has a strong presence across the state. The AAP is concentrated only in three districts in the Malwa belt where it is the main contender along with the SAD. It is totally absent in Doaba and Majha regions. Similarly, Congress is putting up a fight only in the Doaba belt.

What is your strategy considering that you were badly bruised in the last Assembly polls?

Contrary to this impression, I would like to say that the SAD’s core base remained intact even during the last election even though a crucial drop of 5 to 6 percentage points cost us the chance to form the government. We lost because the people believed Captain Amarinder Singh when he said he would waive off all loans. His false promise cost us dear.

The issue of sacrilege is again haunting your party as in the last polls? The Congress has managed to resurrect the issue just before the election.

As I said earlier, it was the false promises of the Congress party, including the assurance of ghar ghar naukari, which cost us dear. As far as the issue of sacrilege is concerned, it has now come back to haunt the Congress. The party is being accused of failing to give justice to the Sikh community by punishing those behind the heinous acts of sacrilege. The party is also being accused of politicising the issue and also failing to nab the culprits responsible for acts of sacrilege during its tenure. We have all seen how the Congress government failed to take any effective action in the case of sacrilege at Sri Darbar Sahib recently.

How much of a setback do you think the drug case registered against Bikram Majithia will prove to the party? Has it not hurt your party in the game of perception in these polls?

Far from causing any setback, the SAD and its cadre have been charged up following registration of the vendetta-fuelled case against Majithia. It is the cadre who wanted Majithia to be fielded against state Congress president Navjot Sidhu from Amritsar East. The SAD is on the upswing as our cadre is firm on taking Sidhu and the Congress to task for registering a false case against Majithia.

Will the SC card played by Congress by appointing Charanjit Singh Channi as CM impact the SAD-BSP alliance?

We need to examine Channi’s track record on issues of Scheduled Castes first. He was part of the cabinet that denied SC students their scholarships. He did not say a word against the SC scholarship scam. He did not resist the deletion of blue cards of BPL families. He has never stood up to fight for the rights of Dalits. He can never emerge as their champion now.

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What is your take on the alliance between the BJP, Punjab Lok Congress and SAD (Sanykut)?

Zero plus zero plus zero will always be zero.

With farmers forming a front and fighting the polls, does your party foresee any dent in your predominantly rural vote bank?

You will see the results yourself. All Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SSM) candidates will bite the dust. The support received by the SSM was on account of the resentment against the farm laws. It was never for the formation of a political outfit.

Why should people vote for SAD-BSP alliance?

The SAD has its own track record. The state became power surplus during our tenure. We laid out a modern road network. We created air connectivity. All social welfare benefits being received by the under-privileged were given to them by Parkash Singh Badal. We simultaneously took everyone along and ensured peace and communal harmony. All this has been torn asunder by the Congress government.

You have been in alliance with the BJP for a long time. In a scenario where no party gets a majority, will the SAD have a post-poll arrangement with the BJP to form the government and keep Congress and AAP out of the arena?

There is no such move as of now. We don’t think such an eventuality will arise as the SAD-BSP alliance will form the government on its own strength.

Has SAD returned to Panthic politics (Panth is an expression for Sikh religious community) as senior and old-time leaders have re-joined the party? You are also being credited with turning Akali Dal, a Panthic party, into a Punjabi party?

The SAD has always been a Panthic party and a Punjabi party. This is because we have safeguarded both Panthic ideals and also stood by Punjabiat. Even now, if you see, we have fielded the most number of candidates from the Hindu community even as we maintain our Panthic identity.

Who will be the CM face of the SAD-BSP alliance?

The party core committee has decided to nominate me for this post.

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If voted to power, as you promised earlier, will an SC person be the deputy chief minister?

Yes, the party has not only taken a decision to have a person from the Scheduled Caste as deputy chief minister but a person from the Hindu community will also be made the deputy CM.

What is your take on the raids by the Enforcement Directorate on Chief Minister Channi’s nephew, Bhupinder Singh Honey?

Corruption done by Channi is out in the open. The CM had been protecting his nephew Honey by even posting security personnel from the CM’s security detail with him. Honey was working at the CM’s behest. All this has been exposed now.

In 2017, Congress declared Captain Amarinder Singh as the CM face just a week before the polls and it worked to its benefit. Suppose Congress announces the CM face this time too, how will it impact your party?

A: Nothing can save the Congress party. Even Rahul Gandhi understands this. Severe infighting has led to the complete collapse of the ruling party.