In an exclusive interview to CNN-News 18's Marya Shakil and Shreya Dhoundial, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh speaks about the reported life threat given to him by the supporters of the Khalistan Movement in Canada. He also speaks about Harjit Singh Sajjan and mutilation of two army jawans by Pakistani forces.
Captain Amarinder Singh, thank you for joining us this evening. Let me begin by asking you your first reaction to the video we have put out. Do you think there is a direct threat to your life? Or do you see it as an empty boast?
Amarinder Singh: I have never been bothered by threats to my life. Whether it is in the service or whether it is in the political career. I have completed nearly 25 years in the political career; I have been through the peak of the Khalistan movement in Punjab and it hasn't bothered me in the least bit and if these fellows shout their head off in Canada it doesn't bother me even the slightest bit, so they can keep shouting their heads off. We are very clear in our mind; we want a strong country, we want a stable country, we want a stable Punjab. I want Punjab to be stable so that I can get on with the business of development. I have got youngsters without jobs, and these fellows in Canada who don't have the slightest idea of what's going on in Punjab keep disturbing the peace in the state and I will certainly not let it have it happen.
The Indian Embassy has lodged an official complaint with Canadian authorities. Have you heard from them?
Amarinder: I have only seen the news that the Canadian High Commission has taken it up with their foreign office. That's their job. But, it's nothing to do with me. And as far as I am concerned it doesn't bother me the least bit what the Khalistanis shout about; they can keep shouting, for all I care, because I have heard too much of this. They think their threats are going to deter me from the path I have always taken. Sadly, they are mistaken.
Given that you have accused members of Canada's Cabinet of being pro-Khalistan - you refused to meet Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan in Punjab - are you really expecting them to respond to you?
Amarinder: I am not going to Canada. I don't care what the government thinks. I don't know what the Canadian government wants. But, it is my job to raise issues which could affect my state and my country. These people who are from the Sikh community who are part of Trudeau's Cabinet most of them have Khalistani leanings. I have been saying that right through, that is why when Sajjan came here I refused to meet him, because I don't want to. There are people in Canada and other countries who want to disturb the peace of my state. And I want development to take place. And if the peace is disturbed nobody will come here; nobody will invest in my state. And, I don't want that to happen.
In your view is the Canada government fuelling the revival of the Khalistan Movement?
Amarinder: I don't think Trudeau knows much about the Khalistan Movement. But certainly these are his ministers. There are these 3-4 chaps; I have forgotten their names; other than Sajjan's, but I did name them some weeks ago and those are the people who are creating problems. You know when they say all these things and they go and make these files. They say they are going to do this and that and create some sort of a new country and all these sorts of nonsense. They are disturbing the peace of my state. There are some people here who fall for these sorts of things. And that is the sort of thing I don't want. Punjab has been through very difficult times. From the 70s onwards, Punjab has not had any investment. Why not? Because, people don't want to go to a disturbed state. Therefore, I want peace in my state. I want stability in my state. Do you get it? So that I can get Punjab moving. And these people don't care. And they just keep shouting their heads off. Because their law permits it. And why don't they have the courage of their conviction if they are so pro-Khalistan? Come and speak in my state. Come to India. Come to Punjab. They will get to know their worth.
Captain, you are a military man, a military historian as well. We have just seen the beheading of two Indian soldiers at the LoC - four in the last seven months - what should be India's response?
Amarinder: When you leave this to the army to decide you can't tell the army when you should respond and how you should respond. Let the army chief decide along with the Army commander of the North where this is taking place and I am sure there will be a response. What are my views? My views are very clear. If they cut the head of one of our own then we need to get some heads from their side too. That is very clear. I am not a soft lion around this. I am a soldier. Unfortunately, we are a gentlemen's army. We have never done these sort of things. I have seen what they have done to our boys. Forget about now, I have just finished writing a book on Saragadi; after the Sargadi was taken in 1879, after taking it they had mutilated the dead bodies. They did the same thing to that young Lieutenant Kalia in Kargil of the 4 Jats. They got him, his fingers were broken, his legs were broken, his teeth was smashed in, his eyes were gouged out, and they eventually cut out his genitals and stuck them in his mouth and killed that youngster. So, they seem to be hell bent on doing these sort of things. And I think we should stop being a gentleman's army.
One of the soldiers who was beheaded was from your unit: 22nd battalion of the Sikh regiment. There was much criticism that you as a unit officer and CM of the state didn't turn up for Naib Subedar Paramjit Singh's funeral in Taran Taran.
Amarinder: Do you know that I have been off the road for the last two months? I cannot walk. I have got a broken tendon in my foot, and I have just had an MRI in the morning to see how things are going. Let me tell you one thing, Naib Subedar was from my regiment from the 22nd battalion of the Sikh regiment. I am very much a Sikh officer; when I say, Sikh officer, I mean Sikh regiment. For me, it would have been my duty to go there both as a regimental officer and Chief Minister of the state. I could not go but I sent my ministers; I sent all my MLAs; all our DCs; all our district officers went there; everyone went there. And, when I get better I will also go and see the family. So don't try to always make an issue out of a non-issue.
Another issue that has dominated headlines is the jeep incident, where a young army major used a Kashmiri civilian as a human shield to clear a road blocked by stone pelters. Many retired generals have said it is an image that will haunt the army for a long long time to come. The BJP has backed the major openly. What about you?
Amarinder: I think you guys should look into my timeline sometimes when I quote something because this is the first reaction from me in which I said that what that Major did is absolutely the correct thing and had I been in the service today, I would have done the exact same thing. Your task is what? To look after your men and to carry out the talks that have been given to you. His task was to save the CRPF boys there and also to save election teams. And he carried it out in the best way. He was being pelted with stones, his boys could have been injured; the voting parties could have been injured, so he caught hold of the chap and took a decision which was the right decision that prevented the stone throwing and he got his men out without injuries. He got the teams without injuries. He completed his task. Instead, of giving him a pat on the back, you are trying to harm that youngster. I think he should suitably be awarded by the government of India, by the ministry of defence and the army for using his initiative and doing this.
Sir, the valley is on the boil again - for the second consecutive year - is this a failure of the Modi government's Kashmir policy?
Amarinder: Look I will tell you one thing. No it's not a government failure. You must understand one thing: if you want peace, the government's writ must run. If you think these people can take law into their own hands and start throwing stones and smashing people up and doing all sorts of things and then the government is going to come and talk to them, certainly not. I will be the first person to object to any negotiations unless the government first gets the upper hand. The security forces must get an upper hand then only you can talk about bringing people to the negotiating table. You may eventually have to end the negotiations but that is a latter stage, not today. Today, I think first thing is to ensure that law and order is maintained and I think the government of India and the government of Kashmir are working it out between them.
It is not just Kashmir, internal security has become an issue in Chhattisgarh as well where 25 CRPF men were ambushed and killed by Maoists in Sukma. Your party has directly blamed the PM for these failures?
Amarinder: No. Let's be clear. You can't blame a Prime Minister for action in Chhattisgarh or for action in Kashmir because these are the things that would go on. I do not know what current government's policy on Kashmir is. But certainly I have given you my views on what Kashmir's should be. However, what happened in Chhattisgarh was a tragic incident. When the CRPF men stopped for lunch they should have put out sentries and then have had their lunch. Why was there no officer there? Why weren't procedures followed? Why didn't they engage the Naxals? Why weren't Naxal bodies seen? Why did that company disintegrate? And, why weren't they properly led into that area when you know you are in a hostile zone? Somebody should ask this question. What is the training being given to these boys? I know that in the army we go to jungle warfare schools before you are inducted or before you go the valley you are put through a six-month course before the battalions go into actual counter-insurgency operations. These are the things that happen. But, the CRPF boys, you don't train them. You don't give them enough firing experience.
Sir, given that India is facing hostility not just from Pakistan but from China as well, do you find it curious that we don't have a full-time defence minister?
Amarinder: Well, I think of course the Defense Minister is necessary. We have hostility all around us. You see China is swamping us from all sides. You see the Chinese navy come right into the Indian Ocean sitting in Gwadar Port. You see them in the South China Sea. The Karakoram Highway has been built to Gwadar, so they have a land route also coming in. Then they are going swinging around Pakistan, also the Chinese have got people sitting in every country which is surrounding India and they have long term plans. So I think certainly, we need a Defense Minister. We need to see that deficiencies are filled up. We need to see that we have more aircraft carriers. The defence minister has to see that our armour is built up. I am surprised why we don't have a permanent defence minister.
Lastly, Sir, the BJP says we are facing a war-like situation in Kashmir. Should the Opposition - including the congress, back the government on this?
Amarinder: Well, that has always been there. If you look at our history of warfare, whenever there has been any war with China, war with Pakistan, the country has been together. When there is a threat to the nation every party supports the government's action.