Chandigarh, May 16 : Prime Minister Narendra Modi is indulged in theatrics since he took over as Prime Minister, he's a self-obsessed man and the people of Punjab or anywhere else can never forget the incident of desecration of their holy scriptures, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh said on Thursday.
For him, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots were a national tragedy and Sam Pitroda's remarks "what happened in 1984 happened" was shameful and unpardonable, and the Congress, including Rahul Gandhi, has already condemned.
"Coming from Narendra Modi, it is clearly nothing more than a gimmick," the Chief Minister told IANS when asked how he sees Modi touching the feet of Akali Dal patron Parkash Singh Badal, 91, ahead of filing nomination papers in Varanasi.
"We have seen Modi indulging in theatrics since he took over as the Prime Minister. He is a self-obsessed man only interested in publicity and all his actions are designed for that," he said in an exclusive interview here.
"His famous (or infamous) hugs of world leaders, playing drums in Japan -- all were photo ops engineered by him with an eye on publicity. Words like respect for elders etc mean nothing to him. Nobody has forgotten the way he behaved with L.K. Advani, ignoring him completely while shaking hands with everyone else on stage."
The Chief Minister asked: "Do you expect a man like that to have any genuine feelings of respect for Badal or any other elder?"
Balakot strikes were never an issue -- it was just sought to be made an issue by Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who tried to use it to cover up the all-round failure of their government in the past five years, Amarinder Singh said candidly.
"In Punjab, which has a large number of its sons in the armed forces, this attempt by Modi to take credit for the strikes and invoke the Pulwama martyrs for votes has not gone down well at all with the people.
"They know Modi and the BJP had no role to play in the courageous act -- which was the work of the Indian Air Force. What did Modi do? Just give the orders sitting in a conference room at PMO (Prime Minister's Office)? Any PM would have done the same, as I have maintained all along."
Without mincing words, Amarinder Singh, 77, the scion of Patiala, fought in the 1965 India-Pakistan war, said: "And we, in Punjab, have seen cross-border raids happening more than once in these years."
He is spearheading his electoral campaign against the Akali Dal-BJP combine to ensure the victory of his Congress party on all the 13 parliamentary seats.
But sacrilege is another thing altogether in Punjab than Balakot strikes.
The people of Punjab, or anywhere else for that matter, can never forget an incident of desecration of their holy scriptures. Punjab, in particular, has suffered a great deal at the hands of divisive forces, he said.
They do not want communal disharmony, they want to live in peace. Religion is not something they can tolerate anyone playing with or exploiting for political or electoral gains, which the sacrilege cases here were all about.
"People cannot forget or forgive those who have tried to polarize them for furthering their own interests," the Chief Minister, who was earlier at state's helm from 2002-07, said.
On Modi raking up Congress leader Pitroda's remark in connection with the anti-Sikh riots, Amarinder Singh, who resigned as a Congress MP and left the party in 1984 to protest against the entry of the army into the Golden Temple during Operation Bluestar, said: "Look, they have been trying to rake up the 1984 riots in every election without much success."
"They played this card in 2017 but failed to stop the Congress juggernaut in the Assembly polls. What Pitroda said was shameful and unpardonable, and the Congress, including Rahul Gandhi, has already condemned and made him apologise for his remarks."
Describing the 1984 riots a national tragedy, he said it cannot be wished or washed away by Pitroda or anyone else.
"And as Rahul has also said, those who perpetrated the violence should and will be punished. But if Modi thinks the remarks of Pitroda are enough to make the people of Punjab make this an election issue, forgetting their sufferings at the hands of his government, they are totally mistaken."
The Chief Minister said farmers were "suffering under debts and not getting due remuneration for their crops, youth have no jobs or prospects, Dalits and minorities live in fear and suppression, people lost their hard-earned money due to demonetization, GST (Goods and Service Tax) has forced many traders and small businesses to shut down".
These are issues which matter on the ground to the people, he said.
For him, being a national election the prominent issues are the failures of the Modi government, especially issues like demonetization, GST, farm debts and farmer suicides, which have directly impacted the people of Punjab.
At the same time, he said, local concerns remain in the limelight.
"That means jobs, infrastructural development, industrial revival, problems of farmers -- things which we have tried to correct in the last two years are the issues that are priorities for our people, and for the Congress.
"Our leaders and candidates are focusing in a big way on the promises we have fulfilled in the state in the last two years and our commitment to implementing the remaining in the rest of the three years," said Amarinder Singh, who fought the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Amritsar and drubbed senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley by a margin of more than one lakh votes.
On the future prospects of the Akali Dal, he said: "People are sick of them. See how Harsimrat has been stopped from entering villages for her campaign. These are all signs that the Akalis have lost the confidence of the people completely and irrevocably."
Parkash Singh Badal's daughter-in-law and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur and his son Sukhbir Badal are in the fray from Bathinda and Ferozepur seats, respectively.
Punjab will go to the polls for the 13 Lok Sabha seats on May 19.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)