Pawan Kumar Bansal, a former Union Minister and four-time former MP from Chandigarh is hopeful of securing the Congress’ ticket for the eighth time from Chandigarh Lok Sabha constituency even though the jury is still out on whether the party will put its stake on the Congress veteran or a fresh face.
Before facing the rival party candidates in electoral battle in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Bansal is this time stuck in a fierce triangular fight within his own party to get Congress’ ticket to contest the elections.
Bansal is among the three heavyweight ticket aspirants from here, with former Union Minister Manish Tewari and Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s wife and former MLA Navjot Kaur Sidhu being the other two.
The lawyer turned politician, Bansal is however hopeful of securing the party ticket this time too, banking on his vast experience in the constituency.
“I have served as Member Parliament four times from Chandigarh and have the longest experience here. Everything is known to the party central leadership,” says Bansal while talking to The Pioneer.
Bansal has already been appointed the chairman of the Congress Lok Sabha campaign committee for Chandigarh and is busy these days chalking out party’s election strategy.
Even though there is no official word on party’s candidate yet, he has begun the election campaigning and is also chalking out an election manifesto for the city.
The 70-year old self-made, first-generation politician had began his career as general secretary, Chandigarh Territorial Youth Congress in 1976 and later on went to become president of the youth wing of the Punjab Congress. He debuted in Parliament as a Rajya Sabha member in 1984 and has fought seven Lok Sabha battles, winning four.
He has represented the Chandigarh constituency in Lok Sabha in the years 1991, 1999, 2004 and 2009.
In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, actor turned politician, BJP’s Kirron Kher had trounced Bansal, breaking his winning spree maintained in the previous three parliamentary polls in Chandigarh.
With strong anti-incumbency mood among the electorate and spotlight on Railway Board Bribery Scam involving his nephew, Pawan Bansal was stated to be fighting a losing battle in 2014 polls.
Bansal had to resign from the post of Railway Minister following the arrest of his nephew Vijay Singla in 2013 in the alleged Rs 10 crore Railway bribery scam.
Almost six years after the scam, the senior Congress leader says, “I had done nothing wrong and had also been given clean chit by the CBI and the Court. Although I lost elections in 2014, I believe it was a strong anti-incumbency that worked against me.”
A malicious campaign was run against me by the political opponents but the citizens know the truth, he adds.
Bansal also criticizes the BJP MP Kirron Kher for failing to deliver on the poll promises in the past five years. “The performance of the BJP MP has been really disappointing and she has failed to address the concerns of people of Chandigarh,” he says. Excerpts from the interview:
What would be Congress’ main election agenda?
The main agenda would be utter failure of BJP to deliver on its poll promises. The Congress promises all round development of Chandigarh. Today, the citizens are facing problem due to property related issues, traffic congestion, lack of parking space, poor transport facilities and deteriorating law and order situation here. All such issues will be raised by the Congress in the election.
Former Union Minister Manish Tewari and Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s wife and former MLA Navjot Kaur Sidhu have also sought Congress’ ticket to contest from Chandigarh Lok Sabha constituency. They are seen as strong contenders for the party ticket. Your take on that.
I have said a lot about it in the past. The matter is with the party high command so it is not appropriate for me to speak on this. We all have made our claims and shown our position in the city. Everything is the known to the party central leadership. It is now upto them to decide on the party candidate.
What do you think would go in your favor as far as ticket distribution is concerned?
I am totally aware of every nook and corner of the city. I know the problems in the city. I have a longest experience being a four-time MP from Chandigarh. So I am very hopeful that the party would again repose its faith in me.
How do you rate performance of Chandigarh MP Kirron Kher in the past five years?
She has been claiming credit for getting the Centre’s nod for changes in the Union Territory’s employees’ housing scheme, approval for need-based changes in houses of the Chandigarh Housing Board and the industrial areas among other initiatives.
BJP’s performance at both central and local level has been really disappointing in the last five years. Kirron Kher’s claim of these achievements is a cruel joke. The local MP has failed to deliver on election promises. The conversion of leasehold to freehold residential properties has been allowed though the conversion rates are very high and discouraging. The fee for transfer of flats in group housing societies is very high. The property tax in Chandigarh is high and the citizens of Chandigarh have been financially burdened in the past five years.
After the Railway Bribery Scam, corruption charges were leveled against you in 2013. You also had to resign from the post of Union Railway Minister. Do you think it has affected your image?
In 2014, a malicious campaign was launched against me on this issue. I was not named in the CBI chargesheet filed in the case and was given a clean chit. Allegations were made against my family business. I received notices from Income Tax Department, the premises of my sons’ offices were raided but after all this, nothing could be found. Later, someone had even filed an application in the CBI court demanding re-investigation into my role in the scam but the Court had made stinging remarks while dismissing the application. Court had stated that judges do not work as caged parrots.
The Railway Bribery Scam was a big election issue in 2014. Do you think your opponents will raise the issue again in 2019 polls?
I don’t think this issue clicked with the people of Chandigarh in 2014. A strong anti-incumbency had worked against me in 2014 and I had lost the election. I was not involved in the scam and people know the truth. People with even an iota of understanding about the case, know the reality. Even then, if the opposition parties raise this issue, I will see how to deal with them.
AAP has fielded veteran politician Harmohan Dhawan from Chandigarh seat. He is seen as a strong challenger in the elections. Your take on that I have always respected Harmohan Dhawan. But, I think he has lost his political standing among the citizens. He has switched his political affiliation in every election. Earlier, he was with the BJP, now he is with the AAP.
What would be party’s focus in its election manifesto for Chandigarh?
We have started working on the election manifesto. Our focus would be to address issues like parking and traffic problems, to improve public transport, put an end to drug trade, improve law and order situation, addressing property related issues of citizens among many others.