Punjab Deputy Chief Minister and Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal tells Aasha Khosa the agenda for the coming election is development.
Pollsters have not been very kind to you in their predictions for the Lok Sabha elections in Punjab. What is your own assessment of the outcome of the election?
Some news channels have given us very good ratings. One channel even predicted we would win 10 seats. But that is no criterion for our satisfaction. We ourselves are quite confident that the SAD-BJP alliance is poised to sweep the elections in Punjab. We are sure about winning 12 out of the 13 seats in Punjab.
Your party might get the benefit of the Congress flip-flop on nominating Jagdish Tytler for the Delhi seat.
We are not banking on any political party to create issues for us. We have never believed in whipping up emotional issues. Our focus is on development. However, on the other hand, the Congress party is grossly mistaken if it believes that by pulling Tytler out of the election it has played a smart game of not getting the blame for inaction on the Delhi riots. The riots were a tragedy and their memory is etched on the minds and hearts of all the people across India. Forget about the Sikh victims, no justice-loving person of any community would like that the perpetrators of the riots are let off without being punished.
Does this mean that your party will not raise this issue in its election campaign?
We do not believe in politicising emotive issues. For us, the issue is: Why did the Congress try to give a clean chit to Tytler on the eve of the Lok Sabha election through the Central Bureau of Investigation? Why did the Congress give a ticket to him and Sajjan Kumar in first place? Was it meant to buy his silence as the Congress feared Tytler could spill the beans by naming the top leaders who had engineered the riots? We will definitely raise these questions in the campaign.
So, justice for the victims is not your issue?
We will fight for the riot victims at an appropriate forum. But at the same time we will not allow any force to divide people.
SAD has been one of the oldest and most trusted allies of the BJP. In this era of new political alliances being worked out, did any one approach you?
We are comfortable in NDA. Besides, SAD does not believe in shifting stands at the drop of a hat. We also believe that NDA, as an alliance, is much more capable of taking the country out of the mess UPA (United Progressive Alliance) has landed us in. NDA has a clear vision for the nation and in L K Advani we have a strong leader with impeccable record of public life.
The SAD-BJP alliance is deep-rooted. It is based on principles and is not a marriage of convenience. We joined hands with the BJP at a time when the party was called communal and treated as untouchable by others. Mind you, our support to the BJP has always been unconditional.
It is not a give-and-take relationship but is like a united family. Our cadres bond well at the grassroots and that is the cause of our success and reason for the longevity of our relationship. Unlike other alliances, this is not a bond between two political parties but a common mission that will continue for long.
How did you find the BJP manifesto? Do you agree with it?
Frankly, I haven't even read the BJP manifesto as yet. Akali Dal, however, is preparing its own manifesto. We expect NDA to prepare a Common Minimum Plan after the Lok Sabha elections, which would be signed by all the partners and would be a binding document.
A ruling party usually has a difficult time in elections due to the anti-incumbency factor. Being the chief campaigner of your alliance, how are you fighting this?
Our biggest plus point is that the Congress, our main rival in the election, is a totally demoralised party. It is also leaderless and has no direction.
Times have changed. Voters test every party on the scale of performance and not on rhetoric or hollow slogans. We are only projecting development works undertaken by our government. Economic agenda is the main issue this time. We have undertaken all-round development of the state.
Why did the Akali Dal suddenly decide to field your wife Harsimrat, who had not been in politics, as a candidate from the Bhatinda constituency?
This time, our family was facing a peculiar problem. My father (Parkash Singh Badal) and I are not contesting the election as we are committed to working in the state. So there was a demand from the people that one member of our family should represent them in Parliament. We did not have much choice before this popular demand.
Does this not amount to perpetuating family rule -- an issue often raised by your ally BJP against the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family?
In a democracy, nobody can enforce a family rule as people are the final decision-makers on electing a candidate. It is true that a person born in a political family easily gets a chance to contest election. He may even win on the basis of the legacy of his parents. But the next time, he will be judged by his performance. This applies even to Rahul Gandhi. The first time, he was para-dropped into politics. But if he wins a second time, he is winning on his own merit. Ultimately, everyone has to struggle their way up in politics. I have worked my way up in the party in 20 years.
My family is not the only one that has fielded its members. Even Amarinder Singh (Congress leader and ex-chief minister) is contesting along with his family. His son and wife are also the candidates of Congress along with him.
Unlike some other NDA allies like the Janata Dal (United), your party has maintained silence on Varun Gandhi's utterances in Pilibhit. Why?
I was not very clear on the Varun issue as I just heard him on television, and then he claimed the clip was morphed. But our stand is very clear: We live in a nation where all religions of the world exist. We must celebrate each other's festivals and take part in each other's lives. This is our strength. Akali Dal is against any move that seeks to divide the people.