Bharatiya Janata Party’s Taranjit Sandhu to seek technical, medical assistance from abroad to set up drug rehabilitation centre in Amritsar

Taranjit Singh Sandhu, former Indian Ambassador to the US and Bharatiya Janata Party's Amritsar Lok Sabha seat candidate, addresses the media in Amritsar.

Former Indian Ambassador to the US and Bharatiya Janata Party candidate for Amritsar Lok Sabha seat Taranjit Singh Sandhu addresses the media in Amritsar. File photo | AFP

Taranjit Singh Sandhu, a former Indian ambassador to the US, is running for the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In an interview with TNIE’s Harpreet Bajwa, Sandhu stressed that setting up start-ups can reduce the brain drain from Punjab, especially Amritsar.

The former special envoy also pointed to multiple fronts to tackle the drug problem, including NIA and NCB investigations, use of lasers to curb drone smuggling, construction of rehabilitation centers with international aid, and creation of employment opportunities to prevent youth relapse. He emphasized the need for a proactive approach. To drugs.


Why did you decide to jump into the political scene from Amritsar and contest the Lok Sabha elections?

I myself did not decide to jump into the political arena. I spent his 36 years in public office, and I believe that politics is also a means of serving the people. My basic goal is the development of Amritsar. I am focusing on Amritsar, but if you look around Amritsar you will see the problems plaguing the city and its people. There is an urgent need to focus on developmental issues here.

What issues will you poll on, what are your priorities, and do you have a vision document?

Amritsar faces serious security challenges, a worsening drug problem and sanitation issues, including mixed sewage and water, which pose serious health risks. Many areas have polluted drains and garbage dumps, which exacerbate the problem.

Low productivity, low incomes and low employment plague both the commercial and agricultural sectors, and I want to address those issues. Regarding law and order, it falls under the jurisdiction of the states, but we will continue to demand that the state governments fulfill their responsibilities. If I am elected and Prime Minister Modi’s government is re-elected at the Center, there is a constitutional mechanism to compel state governments to act.

Drugs and unemployment are two big problems in the area. How would you address them?

Regarding drugs, investigation by NIA and NCB is required. Then, on the smuggling part, there’s new technology that uses lasers to suppress drug smuggling drones. The other is the rehabilitation of drug addicts, and for this we need to build a rehabilitation center here, for which we will receive technical and medical assistance from abroad.

Most importantly, the medicines provided by the state government are pills sold in black, so the medicines that are successful all over the world are important. Children use them and then turn to drugs. The two medicines that are successful in the US are nasal sprays and vaccines. The Indian American community in the US, on my recommendation, has already bought them and sent them to Amritsar for free. We need to be aware of this and focus on best practices.

Thirdly, we need to create employment opportunities for our youth as we need to harness their energy in a positive way. If they have no other option, there is a high chance that they will revert back to drugs. There are two ways to tackle the unemployment problem – short term and long term. The short term way is very clear. Amritsar has huge potential, especially in terms of increasing flight routes to improve connectivity and strengthening cargo facilities. Currently, the cargo facilities at Amritsar airport are only utilised at 20 per cent capacity. Expanding these facilities is essential for exporting industrial and agricultural products to Middle Eastern countries like UAE, Saudi Arabia and Dubai, which have shown great interest in products from this region. Private companies have a collection centre in Mohali and are therefore interested in transporting their products from here. We manufacture wool, sukaf, phulkari, bras and handicrafts. So, many start-ups can be set up and sell these products.

There is a brain drain from Punjab as young people leave for countries like Canada, the US and Australia. What do you think about this?

There are two ways to stop the brain drain. As I said earlier, attracting investments and start-ups to Amritsar is very important. Indian American Punjabis have donated $100 million. They have launched the Vikshit Amritsar initiative to provide support to the youth, especially women.

Currently, we receive 15 lakh tourists but the number can go up to 50 lakh by enhancing connectivity, nurturing start-up ventures and promoting various activities like tourist guiding. So, these young people will be given a week of training and I will ensure that I provide it. My international connections and tie-ups with national chambers will definitely help bring jobs and investments to Amritsar.

Given your successful career in the Indian External Affairs Service (IFS) and your track record in the Amritsar constituency which sits on the India-Pakistan border, would you advocate for resumption of India-Pakistan trade via the Attari border which was suspended after the Pulwama attack?

I have emphasized the importance of connectivity, especially in facilitating trade. Pakistan’s dependence will inevitably put pressure on Pakistan by ensuring that our products reach Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Middle East. Transit trade is essential. There are resources for that. This includes a newly built 25 km rail link from Patti to Makhhu, providing air cargo, border trade and direct access to ports in Gujarat and Mumbai.

Farmers are protesting against Bharatiya Janata Party candidates in Punjab, and when you visited their villages they opposed them and posed black flags to you. How can you build bridges with them and regain their trust?

I am talking about farm issues in Amritsar. I am looking at Amritsar, which is in a very unique position. I don’t completely agree that there was massive opposition. Because I go to rural areas, I have a very clear agenda for farmers. The most important thing is to increase their income, whether increased by industry, companies or trade unions.

Although MSP is a nationwide issue, my focus is on Amritsar. If we look at the history of paddy and wheat, we can see that it started in the 1960s and 1970s due to its profitability for farmers. Today I suggest that growing vegetables can be beneficial for them as well. If we can promote their exports, their income could increase 15 to 20 times. I am committed to providing this alternative.

You are considered an outsider. How do you feel about that?

This is a joke because the other candidates could not find anything else. They threw the outsider tag. We all know that my grandfather, Teja Singh Samundari, has strong roots here. The Golden Temple complex has Samundari Hall, where my father Bishan Singh Samundari founded Gurunankudev University and I have served the country for his 36 years.

There are rumours that you are a parachute candidate. Before you, Hardeep Puri and Arun Jaitely contested in Amritsar but lost. Do people here prefer a local face?

To connect with local people, you have to find your local roots. I am from Amritsar. How dare you call him an outsider just because he came here after 36 years of military service. I don’t think he did anything for his country. I come here every year on vacation and I am from Amritsar.

Don’t you think that if there had been an alliance between the BJP and SAD, things would have been different for the party or for your political prospects?

Whether that’s good or bad is a matter of speculation. But I’m focusing on the current situation. My message is very clear about the development of Amritsar.

Don’t you think there should be a cooling off period for people who want to leave the bureaucracy and join politics?

If politics is a public service, it should be treated as such. Why should there be a cooling off period? No other profession has a cooling off period. There is no such requirement for doctors, lawyers or engineers to enter public service.

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