Former president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, PARTAP SINGH BAJWA, 63, is a Rajya Sabha member of the party from Punjab. A critic of chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh within the Punjab Congress, Bajwa recently created a stir by demanding a probe into the recent Punjab hooch tragedy — which claimed the lives of more than 120 people across the state — by central agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED). In an interview with RANJEET JAMWAL, the three-time former legislator and cabinet minister, Bajwa maintained that Capt Amarinder Singh has “failed” to deliver on the Congress’s pledges made ahead of the 2017 Punjab Assembly elections and that the party would lose the 2022 Assembly polls badly if he is not removed from his post. Excerpts:
Q.Why is a probe by central agencies required in the Punjab hooch tragedy as you have demanded?
A. The portfolios of the excise and taxation as well as the home departments are currently being held by the CM. In the past three years, the target of revenue from the excise department has fallen short of Rs 2,700 crore. It happened due to three main reasons.
First, the laxity of excise and police. There are 16 distilleries in Punjab and not a single bottle can go out of a distillery without paying tax. But a large quantity of liquor was sold outside Punjab without paying taxes. It’s a big tax evasion. Number two, there are 200 to 250 smaller distilleries which are run by politicians and all their production is sold without paying taxes. It is completely illegal. Such distilleries were unearthed in Khanna Rajpura, Ghannaur, and belong to politicians close to the CM.
The police is also involved in this. The third reason is hooch, which is made with spirit diverted from distilleries, paint and varnish traders certified for storing spirit. This spirit was illegally diverted for hooch which is made up of 100 per cent spirit. It becomes poison and kills the user. So in this case (hooch tragedy), a divisional commissioner has been entrusted with the inquiry into the hooch tragedy. Can a divisional commissioner probe departments held by the CM? It’s for this reason that we called for a probe by the CBI and the ED.
Q. Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar alleged you are venting your frustration over Amarinder’s decision to contest 2022 Assembly polls?
A. I don’t understand this. They mean we should keep silent and go to sleep. That means we are very happy and contented. They should rather answer the issues raised by us. If Amarinder is going to come back to power or not, he will leave the Congress in 2022. This is there for everyone to see. Nobody except Amarinder’s caged parrot Jakhar has spoken against us. Everybody knows what we are saying is totally correct. Rs 2,700 crore less revenue was generated, 121 persons lost their lives (in the hooch tragedy). I am myself surprised what that has to do with the 2022 Assembly polls.
Q. How do you look at the Amarinder Singh government’s performance in the past three-and-half-years?
A. Not a single poll promise has been fulfilled. I have already told the Congress high command to remove Amarinder and Jakhar. If these two stay, Congress will suffer the same fate it suffered in West Bengal after 1977. Amarinder will ensure the Congress never comes back to power. And this is basically what he (Amarinder) wants. He wants to go down in history as the last CM of the Congress in Punjab.
Q. Will the Congress high command support you?
A. Do you think the high command will support illegal mining and the mafias? This is a fight between right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Or, the party will have to decide whether it is going to support people who are supporting the mafia or the people who are fighting to save the Congress from the mafias. Those against the mafia are with us and those in favour are with them (the CM’s camp). Now, it is for the party to decide who it wants to help.
Q.The Opposition parties have been alleging that Capt Amarinder and the Badals are hand-in-glove.What’s your take?
A. This is what I want to ask. He has not touched Badals yet. Has a single person been arrested for sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib in Bargari or Behbal Kalan? Have Sukhbir Badal (then home minister) or Sumedh Singh Saini (then DGP) been arrested? He (CM) is just making one excuse or the other. He is mishandling all this deliberately.
Q. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) lost the main Opposition party status to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab.How do you assess the state’s political scenari?
A. Only three parties, Congress, SAD-BJP and AAP will remain in Punjab. But if Amarinder Singh and Jakhar stay (as CM and Punjab Congress chief respectively), then the major fight will basically take place between Akalis and the AAP.
Q. At the national level, a demand has been raised for a permanent Congress president. Do you agree with it?
A. I fully agree with it. Mrs Sonia Gandhi should immediately convene a meeting of the party, leave as ad hoc president and make Rahul Gandhi permanent president of the Congress. Ninety-nine per cent Congressmen want to see Rahul as permanent president. So the party should not waste time (on this issue).