New Delhi, December 7
Even as he defended the right of the police to fire back to counter an attack, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Saturday came out against extra constitutional executions as being against the nation’s Constitutional spirit, while also opposing the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which he said would not be allowed to be passed in his state Assembly.
Speaking at a session on “a better tomorrow’ at HT Summit 2019, along with Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, Captain Amarinder said, with reference to the Telangana killing of the rape accused, that “if the men had fired at the cops then the action was justified.” He, however, made it clear that there was no such thing as encounter. In his state, the police were very clear on this issue, and terrorists and goondas/gangsters had been asked to lay down their arms or face the consequences, he added.
The two Congress chief ministers, who had the upset BJP’s dream of a Congress Mukt Bharat, fielded a host of questions on a range of issues during the session, which saw them in agreement on all the key subjects, including the Telangana shootout. Baghel said the people of the country were tired of delayed justice and the process needed to be expedited.
In his usual candid style, the Punjab Chief Minister came out strongly against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) as being against the democratic spirit of India, which is a “free country.” “Let the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill be passed by Parliament and come to our Assembly, where we have 2/3rd majority…it will not be passed in my state,” he asserted, when asked how Punjab would tackle the problem if the Centre makes it a law.
Both Captain Amarinder and Baghel pointed out that the Congress party was opposed to the NRC as a tool to force people to leave the country. “What if Bangladesh refuses to take back those asked to leave Assam,” said the Punjab Chief Minister, adding that the Centre could not take unilateral decisions on such important matters. Such a move would create problems, he said, asking “can we refuse Indians settled abroad from coming back home if they so want?”
Asserting that the BJP’s nationalist agenda was no longer working in elections, as evident from the results in Maharashtra and Haryana, Captain Amarinder said while at heart, every Indian is a nationalist, people want the fulfiment of their aspirations first. The recent poll results were a clear indication of “winds of change” after over a term of the NDA government, he said, underlining the importance of performance for any party to stay in government. If a party doesn’t perform, it will be shunted out, he said, pointing to the abysmal poll record of the Akalis in Punjab since they were wiped out in the last Assembly polls.
Even as the Punjab chief minister said that he speaks of nationalism mainly in the context of the Pakistan threat, particularly to his state, his Chhattisgarh counterpart said the BJP brand of nationalism was inspired not by Gandhi but by Hitler. The BJP successfully encashed the Pulwana incident but they cannot milk the same cow again, as shown by the Maharashtra and Haryana results, said Baghel.
Both the chief ministers were confident that the forthcoming Jharkhand polls would endorse the change happening in the country, with Baghel calling it a transition period that will pick up pace going forward. As Captain Amarinder pointed out, change was a part of democracy and the BJP’s vote share had dropped significantly in recent months, indicating that the transformation had already begun.
Captain Amarinder denied any identity crisis in the Congress and pointed to the improved performance of the party after Sonia took over as interim president, to say that it showed that the people still had faith in the INC. Asked to choose the best person to lead the Congress, Captain Amarinder said it was for the CWC to decide and he will share his views with them when asked.
On the issue of vindictive politics, the Punjab Chief Minister made it clear that it “does not happen in all parties”, and cited the example of his state where he had ordered investigations only where there was some evidence of misconduct.
The GST issue struck a sensitive cord with both the Chief Ministers, who expressed resentment over the delay in release of the states’ share by the Centre. Captain Amarinder said Punjab could not continue to survive on borrowed money and it was the responsibility of the Union Finance Minister to ensure that the states were paid their share, since all financial powers now vested with the Centre and the states were left with no revenue resources.
“I don’t think she understands the problems we face,” said Captain Amarinder, when asked to respond to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s claim that states had not been paid as collections had been insufficient. His Chhattisgarh counterpart quipped: “She does not understand onions, so how can she understand GST and economy?”
With reference to the allegations of Punjab being responsible for Delhi’s air pollution, Captain Amarinder pointed out that he did not get permission to fly by chopper from Chandigarh due to the smog in Delhi this morning even though his state was bright and sunny. “So where is the pollution in Delhi coming from, now that stubble burning has ended in Punjab,” he asked. The Punjab Chief Minister reiterated his demand for Central support to farmers for stubble management till a long-term solution is found through crop diversification and other measures.