Millennium Post

BJP-Akali alliance springs back in form

Sometimes events of immediate relevance overshadow issues that potentially have long term ramifications. One such event is the Akali Dal-BJP coalition’s sweeping victory in the outgoing week’s Municipal Council and Nagar Panchayats polls. The other event is the Centre’s decision to enhance the state’s share in Central taxes from 32 per cent to 42 per cent in the wake of 14th Finance Commission recommendations.

Two factors justify this elation. One is their impressive win despite a widening rift in the recent past. Intra-party and inter-party rivalries and clashes against their rebel candidates, however, failed to cause any severe damage to the official nominees prospects except in a few places. The second factor is the humiliating drubbing of the Congress in the Council and Panchayat polls, though to a relatively lesser extent than in the Corporations elections. Optimists from the ruling combination, who treat the outcome of the civic polls as a “semifinal” to the 2017 assembly elections, are grossly mistaken.

In a democracy it is a sign of political immaturity to treat the outcome of local body elections as a barometer for predicting outcome of Assemblies and Lok Sabha elections. Local bodies’ elections are contested on local issues with personal contacts and group rivalries playing a key role. Broader political and ideological issues, though, generally decide the fate   in Lok Sabha and Assemblies polls.

Unless there is a wave in favour of a contesting party or a leader, outcome of the Lok Sabha polls  is usually at variance with the state assembly polls and vice versa. For instance, in 2007 there was a widespread belief that the anti-incumbency against the then Parkash Singh Badal-led Akali-BJP government would ensure a victory for the Congress. But it did not. The major reason was the Congress leadership’s complacency, which slackened the party’s campaign drive. In Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party drew a blank in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls but captured power in the 2015 Assembly elections with a record setting win of 67 seats out of 70.

What happens in 2017 will largely depend on three factors?
(1) The state of Congress’ organisational health, which is perpetually in a terminal state. Factionalism, infighting and leadership crisis triggered by its humiliating defeat in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections have not only caused widespread demoralisation in the party but also a leadership crisis. It is difficult to predict whether the Congress is able to come out of its debilitating state by 2017 and provide an effective leadership and strong organisational setup.

 (2) State of the Akali Dal-BJP relationship.

 (3) The validity of the ‘Modi factor’ which led to BJP victory in the Lok Sabha and subsequently held Assembly elections. Of late, it has been on the wane. Will it be able to regain its lost vigor?
Like the game of snakes and ladders, political fortunes of the players keep fluctuating. The Akali leadership was hoping to scale the governance ladder, when the Modi-led government assumed office. Foreseeing his ascendency to power and hoping that it would bail the Punjab government out of its worst ever financial crisis and other problems, it had started heaping praise on Modi. During his visit to Gandhinagar in September 2013, Parkash Singh Badal even described him as the country’s “greatest leader” and a “sardar”.

The Modi-led NDA government has, however, belied the optimistic wishes of the Akali leadership. The Centre has so far failed to bail the Badal government out of its severe financial crises and help it solve its governance problems. The Modi government has refused to release more funds under centrally-sponsored schemes unless the state government justified the utility of the funds already given for specified schemes. The Badal government would find it difficult to positively respond to the Centre’s demand, as it has been diverting many central schemes funds for non-specified purposes. Badal has now demanded that the funds meant for the states under the centrally sponsored schemes are transferred directly to states as untied funds.

Unmindful of their harmful consequences for the state, ruling parties follow unviable populist policies to retain power. Its biggest example is the Akali leadership’s determination to continue supplying free power to the farm sector costing the exchequer over Rs.6000 crore annually, despite widespread  opposition and criticism. In a recent case, the judge told the Punjab government “Your free electricity is being used by rich people in their farmhouses fitted with air conditioner and refrigerators”.

Punjab’s faces an acute financial crunch, which is equally matched by poor governance. Sections of government employees are not paid their salaries and pensions on time. Government-aided institutions are not allocated funds for months together. Education and health infrastructure is in a dilapidated state. Government dispensaries are short staffed. Except those located in constituencies led by influential ruling leaders, most dispensaries are starved of medicines direly needed by the poor patients.

Implementation of the ruling leadership’s much trumpeted development agenda also shows no sign of momentum. An investigative report in popular English daily has highlighted the sharp decline of industrial growth and a massive flight of industry from the state.  Punjab’s ruling leadership which perhaps believes that “discontent is the first necessity of progress” needs to introspect and take corrective steps for restoring normalcy to Punjab’s financial, industrial, agricultural, and governance health.  IPA

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