Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi spoke about navigating the complicated world of Punjab politics, tackling the drug problem in the state, the repeal of farm laws, and the BJP’s ‘mistreatment’ of Punjab.
On two distinct factions in Punjab Congress
My faction is the Congress party. That’s where I belong. I work for the party and I work with the party for my state. I have never made a faction for myself. I have not done that in the past nor will I do it today. Even earlier, when I was made the Opposition leader, I never had a group of my own. If I have come to the position of the CM without any sort of group then why will I need any groups now?
On transition of power in Punjab
Whenever I have been given any task, I have done it with complete dedication and integrity. I have never cut corners. Nobody from my family was in politics and yet I contested elections in college. I was elected the municipal committee member three times and I always delivered. It was the same in my two terms as the municipal corporation president. Even as an independent MLA, I was dedicated to my job. As the leader of the Opposition, I did a cycle yatra with 3,000 youngsters. I enjoy working, there is no pressure. It’s my nature. My father taught me this, and I don’t want to change. Just because I am the CM, that doesn’t mean that I am a big master, and that no one needs to come and meet me. I am happy to go see them myself. Our previous CM (Capt Amarinder Singh) used to wake up at 2 pm, and shut shop at 4 pm. Unlike him, I rest for only two hours. What I have accomplished in these few weeks, he couldn’t do in five years. I have altered my schedule to make the most of the given time.
On Capt Amarinder Singh’s exit as Punjab CM
When we approached the high command about our problems and they formed a committee, he should have understood that he was not wanted. He was then told about the deficiencies and asked to resign. He didn’t. The party made him the CM twice. His wife became an MP, he himself became a Union minister. The party gave him a lot.
You don’t want to work, and then you blame us and allege that we insulted you. You took your home to the farmhouse, you wouldn’t meet anyone at your official residence. Whose fault is it? You have insulted the whole world by not fulfilling the role you were given. I will introspect when and if the party asks me to not be the CM anymore. To say that I was insulted is just an excuse. You have insulted the whole world, by not fulfilling the role you were given. The party is not wrong.
On criticism from the Opposition
We need critics. If we don’t have criticism, how will we improve ourselves? I compete with myself. All these people — Kejriwalji talks about me a lot, Captain Amarinder Singh, Sukhbir Badal… I take criticism positively. I welcome theirfeedback.
On power to the ‘aam janata’
When Captain Amarinder became the CM, no one said a maharaja has become the CM. Why is everyone highlighting a Dalit CM. What’s the big deal in this?
The thing is that the rule of the elites is ending, and it’s headed to the aam janata. An era is drawing to a close. Captain Amarinder, Badal — they are all rajwadas — one rises, the other falls. They have all been rich. Now the power has come into the hands of the common man. There is a yug parivartan, the middle class, the farmers, they will now have the power.
On delivering results and finding money for them
We collect taxes and funds every year, we have budgeted for the announcements we’ve made. If we have slashed the rate of electricity, we have also started buying cheaper electricity. We have made petrol and diesel cheaper merely by slashing the taxes. Earlier, money was going to the homes of leaders, now it has started flowing to the people.
This new development is being liked by people. My job is to ease the problems of the common people. These are being solved automatically because I have faced these in my life, the problems of the common man. And the support I have got, even Captain Amarinder did not get such support. All the MLAs are united and there have been no disagreements in our cabinet debates to date. So it is fortunate for me that I am working with an open heart and with an open mind.
On his relationship with Navjot Singh Sidhu
Sidhuji is our party leader. I am getting full cooperation from him. He is a hard-hitter and has won many matches for the country. He is in the habit of hitting sixes, so he will hit sixes, he won’t take two runs. He is a good player, he will do good things… He had just taken me to his region, we were in Patiala the day before. The party is supreme, we work the way the party guides us. Every CM has to implement the ideology of his party.
On the prospect of BJP in Punjab and the possibility of their alignment with Capt Amarinder Singh
The BJP has always treated Punjab as its enemy. Look how they brought these three bills that hit Punjab the most. More than 700 people died last year. Our economy suffered. Our lives were lost, our money was lost, our systems collapsed and we had to go and protest. Now they have repealed the laws. But at what cost?
Even our Captain sahab, he was an able politician, don’t know why he is doing this (aligning with BJP).
On the farm laws
I have said two things to our PM, one that we should give MSP for other crops also. If you start buying pulses and corn as you buy rice, the farmer will start growing them. And it should go at the right price.
Secondly, I requested the PM to encourage organic crops with a separate MSP. If they do so, there will be two benefits — one, the health of the people will improve and the use of urea and pesticide will fall. Also, there won’t be any glut of grains. The Centre’s money will also be saved. At the same time, you will get a good product. Now our produce is rice. The UK and many other countries of Europe have stopped taking it because there is so much pesticide, urea, etc., in it which is causing harm to the consumers.
On farmers from Punjab hesitating to diversify
Cotton cultivation is going well in Bathinda’s Malwa area but not so much in the Doaba area. Captain Amarinder Singh had also talked about diversification but did nothing. I have very little time; crops have already been sown. How do I ask to sow something else? If we get a chance to be elected for a new term, we will bring about a revolution in this area. We have good planning and policies that we will provide to the people of Punjab.
On why the young migrate from Punjab
I lived in a village but my father shifted us to the city for better education. Other people in my village didn’t think the same way. It all depends on the head of the family. Our political leaders didn’t give us a roadmap for Punjab’s prosperity. They only sought to get votes. We need a leader who doesn’t worry about returning to power and only works for the development of the state. I will do the same if my government returns to power. Today, the leaders are prospering, not the state. Excise, education, and agriculture — all these areas can benefit from good policies.
Youngsters like the system in foreign countries. Over there, the cops don’t harass them, work gets done smoothly in offices, there’s no undue burden of taxes, there’s 24×7 electricity. If they get the same here, they will like living here, too. The education system must be reformed to provide employment. We aren’t teaching what is needed by the markets. There’s no skill development. We need better policies to assess the career that a child wants to pursue. If the education is good, no one will go outside. If they get jobs here, why would they go to Canada? We can’t become Canada but if we can just copy what they are doing, it’ll be good enough. We need to improve our systems.
On the politics of religion
Sacrilege of the Bhagwad Gita is as much a concern as that of the Guru Granth Sahib, or any other holy text. Everyone supported the farmers’ protest; there were no panthi sentiments involved. There were farmers from Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab. Even the farmers have repeatedly said that it is a secular fight, it’s a fight for the nation. They never saw it from a religious perspective. BJP always plays politics through religion. BJP relates everything to nationalism. Who can be bigger nationalists than Punjabis? Almost 70 per cent of the people who have sacrificed their lives for the country are Punjabis. The people of Punjab are united and no party can alter that. I had requested the Home Minister that no matter which government comes in Punjab, don’t let religious wars take place here.
On the Centre’s extension of the BSF jurisdiction
Even when the state was facing militancy, the BSF jurisdiction was 15 km. It was the same during the wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. Today, when we are living peacefully, how can you increase the jurisdiction to 50 km? This is a violation of our rights, hence we approached the Supreme Court.
That the drones carry drugs is all make-believe. Amarinder has been working for the BJP for a long time. Fear-mongering is BJP’s agenda. Now that the elections are around the corner, they will create more trouble. But there isn’t any danger in Punjab. This is all political, just a ploy to get votes. We have full faith in Punjab police and the administration.
On the rampant drug problem in the state
There’s a lot of improvement. We are trying our best to break the nexus between politicians, policemen, and the common citizenry. We hope to solve this issue soon. We have also tied up with social organisations and instructed the police to tighten their vigil. But things are much better than what they were five years ago.
On currently pursuing his PhD
I am a student of political science. My PhD is on the Indian National Congress, its organisational structure, and electoral strategy since 2004. I have asked for an extension in the submission of my dissertation and will submit it after the elections in April. I feel everyone should continue to learn, regardless of age.