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‘BJP is the natural option’

A1985-batch former Tamil Nadu cadre IAS officer, Jagmohan Singh Raju (59), joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Punjab before the February 2022 Assembly polls after 35 years of service.

Ranjeet S Jamwal |

A 1985-batch former Tamil Nadu cadre IAS officer, Jagmohan Singh Raju (59), joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Punjab before the February 2022 Assembly polls after 35 years of service. Though he lost his maiden election from the Amritsar East assembly constituency, Raju is actively working to expand the base of the BJP in his home state.

In an interview with Ranjeet Jamwal, Raju detailed the BJP’s plan for becoming a major player in state politics and the challenges ahead.

Some excerpts :

Q: Recently many senior Punjab leaders like Captain Amarinder Singh and Sunil Jakhar have joined the BJP. How will it help the BJP?

A: Right now, the BJP is in its growth trajectory. A few decades back, the BJP had aligned with the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) as an alliance partner where the BJP was more in the urban areas and the SAD in rural areas. But two years ago, on the issue of farm laws, the Akali Dal chose to part ways from this alliance and the BJP had almost become untouchable in Punjab for at least one and half years or so. BJP leaders faced anger which was very public. Now the BJP, as a stand-alone party, has decided to take it as a challenge and expand their base socially also. That is where Sikh faces of other political parties have joined the BJP. Even when he was in Congress, Captain Amarinder’s ideas on national security, zero tolerance towards terrorism and defence issues were in sync with the BJP. So he is quite a natural choice for the BJP. Along with these leaders, people are joining the BJP en masse at the ground level.

Q: So instead of joining the ruling AAP, people are joining the BJP? Why?

A: In Punjab, there are only four options for the people – Congress, SAD, AAP and BJP. Congress is the immediate predecessor government to AAP, so all sorts of corruption or scams are there. So people have anger against the Congress which is no longer a national party. Akali Dal is also facing great disaffection from people because it has become a family concern. Secondly, it has become a business concern because all businesses of Punjab were usurped by the Badal family. So there is a complete rejection of Akali Dal. AAP is one party where the disillusionment has come the fastest. It’s a mystery that they came with 92 MLAs and within months, such disillusionment should emerge. This is unprecedented. Thus, there is only one choice before the people, and that’s BJP which is doing well, winning state after state and in the Union government also where it’s going to remain. So, in Punjab BJP has become the people’s party.

Q: What are the challenges before the BJP in Punjab?

A: Under the alliance with the SAD, BJP was confined to only 20 to 25 Assembly seats which are only 20 per cent of seats. So the BJP has to cover another 80 per cent of the geography of Punjab. Second, under the unsaid arrangement, the Sikh vote was considered to be the proprietary right of the Akali Dal which they didn’t allow any other party to have any access to. This is another issue – the BJP has to penetrate into this socio-religious segment. Third, is that most of this segment (Sikhs) is in the rural areas whereas the BJP was strong in the urban areas. And lastly, Dalits and SCs were historically politically aligned with the Congress in Punjab. We have to tell them that what the Congress could not do for them in 50 years, the Modi government has done for them in eight years. So the BJP is a very good choice.

Q: Post agitation against farm laws, do you think BJP is in a position to win over farmers?

A: What was the fate of farmers before the three farm laws were introduced? Suicides were taking place, poverty was there among farmers and farmers were in debt. Then came the three farm laws. The Prime Minister thought they (farm laws) will take care of their problems. But then laws were taken back about a year back. Has the life of farmers improved? Suicides are taking place, every day farmers are on the roads. Who has helped them? So the problem is certainly there. In Punjab, the agricultural economy is distressed. There is a problem, some solutions need to be there. Farmers should sit once again with the government because it’s their own government. Prime Minister Modi was BJP in charge of Punjab 20 years back, so he is well versed in the situation. Farmers should sit at the table and take advantage of this. They must discuss everything and find a solution.

Q: What’s your view on pro-Khalistan activities in Punjab?

A: Sikhs are deadly opposed to separatist slogans and it’s against the interest of the Sikh community. They have always suffered because of the very few who for their own selfish ends sometimes raise such bogeys to attract a very tiny segment and to earn popularity for themselves. Second thing is that AAP is very soft on this front essentially because AAP leadership has taken help from all sorts of quarters, even those quarters which are not well disposed towards India. And during the first six months, let’s see what has happened. There is an RPG attack on the police headquarter, there is the murder of a very famous singer and a very popular kabaddi player was also murdered. In 180 days of AAP in power, there will be an equal number of murders if not more. If you see narco-terrorism, drugs, and weapons across the border, it’s all on the increase. If you see, they (AAP) were defeated in the Sangrur bypoll and a person (pro-Khalistan Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) leader Simranjit Singh Mann) who says all sorts of nasty things against the Republic of India, won from their core citadel or fortress. A Khalistan march took place in Amritsar, and new players are emerging. Nobody is able to control them. There is no fear of the law. And sometimes it looks deliberate because they have taken help from these elements.

Q: Drug Menace is a big issue in Punjab. You undertook a foot march against it. What’s the situation at the ground level?

A: Drugs, whether synthetic or permissible drugs including liquor, have really become a menace for Punjab. The highest consumption of drugs like opium, cannabis or synthetic drugs is in Punjab. During my 12-day pad yatra, doctors told me liquor is the gateway to drugs. And liquor has the highest consumption in Punjab. But this Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government, which had pledged to make the state drugs free “in days”, the first decision they took was to reduce the prices of liquor. They wanted to increase the sale of liquor by making people drink more. So I really don’t know what’s happening and which lobby is working, how corruption is influencing it.