‘Speculation about Arvind Kejriwal becoming Punjab CM is to sidetrack issues’
Photo taken from DR Balbir Singh's Facebook page
Patiala: Dr Balbir Singh says the plan is set for the biggest poll upset in Punjab. The doctor with 30 years of public service behind him is the AAP candidate in Patiala, the home turf of former CM and Congress CM-candidate Captain Amarinder Singh.
Balbir Singh’s confidence comes from the successful campaign he managed for AAP’s Dharamvira Gandhi who ended up trouncing Praneet Kaur – former minister in the UPA cabinet and Capt Singh’s wife – in the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.
Singh says he feels honoured that AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal trusted him to take on Amarinder Singh. Now the little hitch is that MP Gandhi is a little cut up with Kejriwal but Singh says it’s all sorted after he met him with a box of sweets after his candidature was announced.
CNN-News18’s Rupashree Nanda caught up with Singh for an interview, Excerpts:
What has been your journey so far?
I am an eye surgeon by profession. I had served in the Government Medical College before I started my own hospital. I started the Model Rural Health Care Delivery System. In addition to giving medicines, the focus was also on a healthy lifestyle, use of smokeless chullas, sanitary napkins, and general cleanliness. Those were the years of terrorism between '84 and '90. I was honoured by the Punjab Government for my work. Dharamvira Gandhi, one Dr Sharma and I worked in Moga, Gurdaspur and Patiala and had huge numbers of patients in the OPD. We were very popular. In my hospital we gave services to majority of people in Malwa. I have got patients from as far as Hissar and Fetehabad in Haryana.
My father was a farmer. I had to walk five kilometers to school in my village Bhaura and cycle 15 kilometers for pre medical college. For my admission into the Dayanand Medical College, my father did not have the Rs 5000/- that was required. Villagers contributed the money for my admission. While studying to be a doctor, I joined the JP movement.
How did you enter politics?
I joined the Anna Hazare movement and then joined the party in 2013 as a volunteer. I became the campaign manager of Gandhi in 2014. Your colleagues compliment me for Dr Gandhi's success saying that I managed the campaign it with ' surgical precision'. After Preneet Kaur lost, Captain Amarinder had called us ' Naxalites'. Today he is asking who is Dr Balbir Singh. Sheila Dikshit had asked “Who is Kejriwal”, Preneet Kaur had said, “Who is Dr Gandhi” and now Amarinder says the same about me. My reply is people will answer the Maharaja.
Why did you agree for a tough risky battle?
Dr Balbir Singh: It is very good opposition…to take on a mighty king and defeat him at the hustings. I am very confident. I have got unbelievable support from people of Patiala. We are creating a very strong volunteer force whereas Captain has engaged Prashant Kishor and paid workers with laptops. We have genuine volunteers. Amarinder was MLA twice, Chief Minister of Punjab once and MP from Patiala. How many times did he go to the Parliament? What has he done for the people? He does not even meet them. Congress failed to perform the role of opposition.
But you will not be able to match the financial muscle of Captain Amarinder Singh…
They cannot match our passion (junoon se harayenge). We cannot match their money power. I will collect Rs 10/- from 50,000 people, with each donor we will make ten more contacts and gain ten votes. We have already crossed the 2,000 mark. A lot of NRIs are also coming for the campaign.
Is the Congress making a comeback? It is more visible now?
This is perception created by electronic and print media. This is not the perception of the people. Amarinder is isolated in the Congress. Bajwa … Dhillon … all Patiala leaders are against him. Even Rahul Gandhi is against him. He threatened to leave the party and form his own party, called Rahul Gandhi, ' baccha' and arm twisted him to declare him as PPCC president. Even on Navjot Singh Sidhu, he is isolated.
But what about the divisions within the AAP? Will that not play on the mind of the voter?
It won’t have much impact. Though there will be some impact because he (Dharamvira Gandhi) is an elected representative and a good doctor and a reasonably good Parliamentarian. He has no problem with me. He has problems with the central leadership. I met him with ladoos after being declared a candidate and he has promised to support me.
Given the fact that Dr Gandhi is still suspended, can you count on his support?
I left my practice and worked 24/7 for his election. I hope he will reciprocate and support me.
Will he come back to the party?
We want him to come back. We and all my doctor friends are trying for that. I hope we will be able to bridge the gap between him and the central leadership.
Political analysts feel Dr Balbir Singh will lose… how would you respond to them?
It will be the biggest electoral upset of 2017. The slogan here is, ' abhi toh rani haari hai/ ab toh raja ki baari hai'. Raja's power is not more than people's power. This is going to be the most shocking result of 2017. There will be four epic battles in Punjab - two against Badals, one against Majithia and one against Amarinder.
Any message for Captain Amarinder Singh?
My only message is that he should play a fair game, he should meet people in his constituency and answer their questions. He should make a public commitment that he will not use money or liquor for elections.
There are all kinds of stories about AAP: from tickets being sold for a price in Punjab to drunken behavior of some of its members?
That is all motivated propaganda. There is scope for improvement. Prashant Kishor is a paid worker, people say he got Rs 550 crore. Our workers are honorary workers. Their sacrifice is much bigger. It hurts me when someone says that.
Will the Chief Minister of Punjab be from Punjab, or, could be even from outside Punjab?
The Chief Minister will be from Punjab. Our National Convener, on record, and our national spokespersons, Raghav Chadda and Sanjay Singh, have said on record that CM will be from Punjab and Kejriwal has the mandate of the people of Delhi for five years and will rule Delhi. Speculation about Arvind Kejriwal becoming CM is to sidetrack issues.
Your party has announced that a Dalit will be the Dy CM of Punjab. But do you have a strong Dalit face?
We have a strong support base. We are not building faces. We are going to elections with Arvind Kejriwal as our leader; ' Kejriwal, Kejriwal/ Saara Punjab tere naal'... my voters are saying that.