first_imgAfter being named by the BJP as its candidate for the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency on Sunday, Union Housing and Urban Affairs Minister of State (independent charge) Hardeep S. Puri spoke to The Hindu. Let’s start with the announcement on Sunday. Was this something you were interested in and was it being discussed within the party for some time? What is your reaction to it?The best way I can answer that question is to say that my position all along has been that this is a call that the party has to make and I have maintained that if the party decides that a particular member in the Council of Ministers, serving as a Rajya Sabha MP should contest a Lok Sabha seat, then, well, that’s a call, a decision, that the party has to make and as a karyakarta (worker) I would abide by it. That is the short and absolutely straight answer.Amritsar is a seat that the BJP lost in 2014, when Arun Jaitley contested, and in the 2017 by-election, after holding the seat from 2004 to 2014. Do you see this as a challenging seat?Look, any election is challenging. And each election, in every five-year cycle or otherwise, has a dynamic that is entirely specific and particular to that context. What happened in Mr. Jaitley’s case has been the subject of much speculation… I think we were facing a certain anti-incumbency. I don’t think that is a reference point. Mr. Jaitley has always been a very close friend of mine, a well-wisher, and I am very sure that even in the context of the 2019 election, he must have had an important role to play in my being nominated to that seat. By dint of sheer professional training, I don’t like making assessments on prospects without doing due diligence, but I can share with you, with confidence, that I think people are aware of the fact that this is not an election just to decide who will represent Amritsar, but this is also an election that will determine the nature and shape of the Central government for the next 5 years and I think the BJP-led NDA is going into these elections with a very positive agenda. In so far as Amritsar is concerned or the three seats the BJP is contesting in Punjab, I have absolutely no doubt that we will win all three. I will give the electorate of Amritsar sufficient opportunity in terms of what I stand for, in terms of my own track record, and more than that, what I plan to do for the city of Amritsar in the next five years. I will place before the electorate of Amritsar a vision document…There were reports of friction in the BJP-SAD alliance and that the Akalis wanted the Amritsar seat.I would be surprised that in any alliance and in any system of democratic functioning, people aren’t jostling. This is a prestigious seat and it’s also guru ki nagri (holy city). So if somebody says in place of the three seats you have, I’ll take this, I wouldn’t hold it against them.What kind of connect do you have with Amritsar? How do you think people will receive you vis-à-vis a local?What would you rather have? You have a choice between somebody who is a local but is unlikely to be a member of the Central government and you have another person, who also looks roughly the same, wears a turban and is as much of a proud Sikh, who has connections with Amritsar, except that he hasn’t spent his life there. I joined the foreign service in 1974, went to Delhi University and had schooling in different parts of the world… But I have in the last one year visited Amritsar dozens of times. I started visiting Amritsar at the age of eight. My grandfather was among those who survived the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh. Now, I would have thought that what is important is to elect somebody who can represent the constituency more effectively and who can carry that into the government so that Amritsar’s work gets higher priority, notice and attention.What will be the broad themes of your vision document for Amritsar?Urban infrastructure and particularly tourism infrastructure for multiplying the earnings from tourism. Amritsar has been deindustrialised for factors that may not be in our control. There are consequences to being a border State. You may not be able to change that, but you can step in and attract more foreign direct investment. You can make sure that Punjabis and Sikhs who have an emotional bond with Amritsar will invest in industries. There is a locational disadvantage, but you can provide incentives. Another area from my point of view is education; international connectivity is another issue. The bottom line is that I look forward to being the voice of Amritsar in Delhi and I want to give people that choice.last_img read more