Exclusive: Popularity of Indian PM Narendra Modi will not last, says Amarinder Singh
Even Churchill was popular during World War II, but in the first election held in UK after the war he was thrown out, says the Punjab CM.
India's Congress party has been pushed to a corner after electoral losses and is facing dissent within its ranks. But senior Congress leader and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh insists the party is stronger with the Gandhis at the helm of affairs. He also believes Indian PM Narendra Modi's popularity will not last for ever. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul have proven themselves to be capable leaders, he says. "Congress is a 135-year-old party and has seen many Gandhis and Nehrus leading it, with people accepting them" he says in this exclusive interview to Khaleej Times.
The Congress party seems desperately in need of fresh faces and ideas to take on the BJP. Do you think the Gandhis are up to this challenge?
Of course they are. This kind of talk is only being made by somebody who wants to be nasty about the Gandhis. After all what's wrong Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, she has been an excellent president. She became Congress president in 1998, I became Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief in 1999 and I worked with her. I found her to be very competent. She believes in the modern system of management and that is - give a task and if you achieve something she'll back you to the hilt and if you're not upto it, you're out. And that's the way it should be.
Even Rahul has shown himself to be truly capable, especially in the way he has taken on the central government on critical issues, and I have always maintained he is also quite capable of leading the party.
What is your view on the political scenario in the country today? Do you feel secularism is under threat in India?
I hope that's not the case. But things, as they exist, seem to point in that direction. And that is very unfortunate. India's Constitutional and democratic foundations rest on the bedrock of secularism. We take pride in treating all people as equal, and anything that damages those secular credentials is unfortunate and would be extremely harmful for the nation.
The BJP has failed in its handling of the economy and containing the pandemic. Why isn't the Opposition able to get the upper hand then?
Who says we do not have an upper hand? The Opposition has been taking the BJP on both inside and outside the Parliament. As a result, there is growing anger against them even among the people. It is because of the Opposition that people realise how bad the country's economic situation is today. So the question of the Opposition failing to get the upper hand does not arise.
However, we need to remember that the priority today is on tackling the Covid pandemic, and all parties, including Congress, have extended their full support to the central government in managing this national crisis. And once you give full support you back them in whatever they do. Unlike here, in Punjab, where the Aam Aadmi Party and others had given us full support in fighting the pandemic, and yet they are the first ones to attack us every day on the same issue.
That is now crises are fought, we need to be united, it is a question of India's survival, and the survival of each of us. This is a crisis above petty politics and requires political unity.
What do you think accounts for the popularity of PM Narendra Modi despite the government's failures on many fronts?
Well, there's a time and place for everything. I don't know how long this popularity will last. Even Winston Churchill, then British Prime Minister, was popular during World War II but in the first election held in UK after the war he was thrown out. So these things don't last.
A recent report suggests that China is spying on many Indian leaders including you. How do you see this development in light of India's current tensions with China?
I don't know what they want or hope to get from us if that's true. If they want to know anything from me, why don't they just come and have a conversation with me? What can they be trying to find out? How my wheat is growing and how my paddy is growing? After all, what else is there in Punjab that I can tell them about? I really don't know why they would need to spy and what they hope to gain by it.
Do you believe the Congress party is truly democratic in nature and if so, can we ever expect to see a non-Gandhi leader like yourself becoming PM?
First of all, I have no intention or aspiration to become PM. I am interested in working for Punjab, which I have made clear several times. But as for questioning the Gandhi leadership, why do people vote for them if they don't want them. Sonia Gandhi's vote-bank goes up with every election.
The fact is that the Gandhis are historically tied to the party and that's why people talk about them and say such things about them. Congress is a 135-year-old party and has seen many Gandhis and Nehrus leading it, with people accepting them. But it is people who have accepted them. But then there are times when they want change - a new face. That is the way the Indian political system functions.
But why make an issue of it? That is what I don't understand. We live in a democracy. It's the same country where BJP, at one time, had two MPs in Parliament and we had formed the government. Today it is our turn to be out of government. What has that got to do with the Gandhis?
Simran Sodhi is a senior journalist based in New Delhi
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