Punjab Congress President Amarinder Singh has warned that the construction of the controversial Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal to provide water to neighbouring Haryana can trigger the return of Khalistani terrorism in this border state.
There are Khalistani elements across the border (in Pakistan) who are waiting for an opportune moment to once again unleash terror on Punjab's soil, the senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister told IANS in an interview.
Peace in Punjab was marred from the late 1970s till 1993 by militants' demand for an independent state of Khalistan for the Sikh.
Elections to the 117-member Punjab assembly are slated to be held in early 2017, wherein the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance will be pitted against the opposition Congress and the emerging Aam Aadmi Party.
"Denial of water to residents of Malwa and other regions of southern Punjab, in particular, can lead to violence, given the past violence in the region which saw onset of terrorism with the passing of Anandpur Sahib resolution in 1973 (by the Akalis) and also the spread of Naxalism," the 74-year-old senior politician said.
Amarinder Singh, who resigned as Lok Sabha member (elected from the Amritsar constituency) effective from November 11 after the Supreme Court ruling on a Presidential Reference on sharing of river waters with Haryana, also said that demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes had also emerged as an important issue in Punjab due to hardships it caused the people.
Amarinder Singh on November 23 handed over his resignation letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to protest over the SYL canal issue.
The Supreme Court on November 10 held as "unconstitutional" the 2004 law passed by the Punjab assembly which was intended to deny Haryana its share in the river waters through the SYL canal.
Amarinder Singh was the Chief Minister when the Punjab assembly passed the Punjab Termination of Water Agreements Act, 2004.
In case the Congress returns to power in Punjab, Amarinder Singh said, he will again take legal recourse by bringing in proper legislations in the state assembly on the sharing of river waters.
"I will do it once again when I am in power with two-thirds majority in the assembly. I had earlier also done all I could legally to prevent even a single drop of water from flowing out of Punjab. I can promise one thing: Water of Punjab will remain with the state's people, who need every single drop of it for their own survival."
"The interests of Punjab's people are of utmost importance. I will not allow these to be compromised at any cost, even if the Congress leadership tomorrow decides to take a contrarian stand on the issue."
Answering a query, Amarinder Singh said cricketer turned politician Navjot Singh Sidkhu, who earlier resigned as thed BJP's Rajya Sabha member, will add value to the party's campaigning in Punjab.
"It is for Sidhu to decide if he wants to join the Congress or not. But he's definitely going to be a part of the Congress campaign in Punjab, to which, I'm sure, he will make value addition," he said.
Asked if the ex-cricketer will contest the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, which he was representing in the 16th Lok Sabha before his resignation, Amarinder Singh said: "It is for the Congress high command to decide."
Navjot Singh Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu -- who represented Amritsar East constituency in Punjab assembly and resigned from the BJP -- is slated to join the Congress on November 28 along with former hockey Olympian Pargat Singh.
Pargat Singh, who parted ways with the Akali Dal, represented Jalandhar Cantt in the assembly.
Asked about the main rival to the Congress in the coming assembly polls, Amarinder Singh said there was no serious threat to his party, which is trying to make a comeback in Punjab after remaining out of power since the 2007 elections.
"The Shiromani Akali Dal stopped being a serious player in the polls a long time ago. The Aam Aadmi Party is itself trying to maintain a semblance of credibility in Punjab," the senior Congress leader said.
Amarinder Singh said he resigned as Lok Sabha member to stand with the people of Punjab after the Supreme Court verdict on Presidential Reference on Sutlej-Yamuna waters.
He said Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had lost whatever little credibility he had in public eye after the SYL verdict.
"For 10 years, he allowed Punjab's case in the apex court on the SYL issue to be compromised. For 10 years, he closed his eyes to the people's problems. He also allowed industries to become defunct," the former Chief Minister said.
Punjab has been witnessing suicides by farmers and addiction among its youths, he said.
As for AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's charges of Swiss bank accounts of his wife Preneet Kaur and son Raninder Singh and accumulation of black money, Amarinder Singh said these were "old charges" which even the Enforcement Directorate had not been able to prove.
He said fake account numbers have been released by Kejriwal, the same numbers that were mentioned earlier also in connection with his wife and son.
"But as in the past, not a shred of evidence has been produced to link these numbers to me or my family. All this is mere election gimmickry -- a ploy to divert public attention from Kejriwal's own failures," he said.