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‘The people can’t be misled this time’

- Soni targets akali misrule

Anandpur Sahib, April 28: Congress general secretary and Sonia Gandhi aide Ambika Soni, who is contesting from the Anandpur Sahib Lok Sabha constituency in Punjab, feels the Akali Dal-BJP has given one of the worst governments in recent memory and the people of the state are itching to teach the ruling combine a lesson.

She says the Akali Dal did not only stoop to new depths of corruption, but has also tried to subvert the democratic system by running the state with coercion, threats and manipulation.

Soni, who has always been in Parliament through the Rajya Sabha, is now contesting from what Sikhs consider one of their most sacred places, founded by Guru Tegh Bahadur, as part of Sonia’s plan to field senior leaders to salvage some political space in these difficult times. Soni talked to The Telegraph during her campaign in a village. Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Punjab looks like one of the few good states for the Congress. What is the feedback you are getting?

Soni: We definitely have people’s support. All sections of the society are fed up with the Akali misrule. They have not only failed in every aspect, they have created problems for the ordinary people. But as the election nears, we are getting information about their desperate moves. They have started arresting people on false charges. They have stopped grants to any sarpanch who is not an Akali supporter. One newspaper reported on the front page today that the Akalis have sought information on all polling agents. Our agents are being threatened, implicated in false cases. These are disturbing trends for our democracy.

Q: Some leaders have been saying there is mafia raj in Punjab, others call it fascism. Do you endorse that view?

A: I don’t use strong words but, yes, they are using strong-arm tactics. They are trying to pressurise people, using police, money power and other means to force people to vote for Akali candidates. They appear to believe that elections can be manipulated. One woman told me we should spare her sarpanch husband for one month till the election as he was under threat from the Akalis not to support the Congress.

One government officer was told he would be victimised as his son was campaigning for the Congress. What are these indicators? I can only say the Akalis don’t believe in healthy democratic processes.

There is another issue. They had stopped the aata-dal (wheat-pulse) scheme for the poor and I hear they started giving wheat for Re 1 per kg since Saturday. Truckloads of grains are coming to villages.

Q: How did they win the 2012 Assembly election if they are so unpopular?

A: The people can’t be misled this time. Roads, particularly in rural areas, are in such bad shape. A series of potholes are called link road(s). Salaries to government employees are not coming regularly, old-age pension, widow pension have not been disbursed. Their whole politics is based on lies and falsehood. People are being suppressed by use of force.

Punjab, which feeds India, is now known for drugs. What an image of this great state… the whole country is debating that the strong, dynamic Punjabi youth is now ruined by smack and heroin. The government hasn’t done anything to curb the drug menace… no elected government acts in this irresponsible manner. The government and the society are locked in an antagonistic relationship. People want to get rid of this government as soon as possible.

Q: So the Narendra Modi wave apparently sweeping the country is not working in Punjab? But even the Akalis seem to be relying on the Modi factor.

A: In villages, nobody knows Modi or (Arun) Jaitley. People here know who is sand mafia, transport mafia, cable TV mafia, liquor mafia…. People’s primary concern is to fight them. What is this discourse that Modi will come and bring development? You are in government for so many years, why didn’t you work? Who stopped the Badals (chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir) from providing relief to the people? What will Modi do, make roads in Anandpur Sahib’s villages? What people need is a strong MP who can fight for them. What people need is a sensitive state leadership, which responds to their needs. What is this Modi wave… other than falsehood created by the media?