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Captain in Punjab

Captain in Punjab
In the midst of all the deserved praise the BJP has received following its stupendous victory in Uttar Pradesh and Uttrakhand, in addition to the massive strides in Manipur, one must note that the party fared poorly in the two states where it was the incumbent. The party suffered a rout in Punjab in coalition with the Shiromani Akali Dal, while in Goa it finished well below the Congress. The Congress secured an absolute majority in Punjab by winning 77 seats, while the ruling BJP-SAD alliance managed just 18 seats and the AAP with 20. In Punjab, a change in government was inevitable. The drug epidemic, allegations of corruption, nepotism, agrarian crisis, growing debt, and its inability to deal with a whole host of other development issues kicked the SAD-BJP coalition out of the corridors of power. For the Aam Aami Party, which at one point was the favourite, the results are only a temporary roadblock in their path to progress on the national scene.

For AAP, the problem has become one of managing expectations. In these elections, the party was measured up to what it had achieved in Delhi. Of course, it did not help matters that party leaders trumpeted their chances of a repeat in Punjab and Goa. For a party barely four years old, it can still be proud of its achievements. It is now the principal opposition in Punjab, ahead of the SAD and BJP. For the Congress, meanwhile, the results in Punjab are of critical importance, especially in light of rising concerns over the national leadership.

The result of the UP elections is yet another indictment of the Gandhi family. Questions of whether the family can garner any votes on their own merit are growing more uncomfortable by the day. Credit for the party's success in Punjab can be attributed to Captain Amarinder Singh. While the Congress is not dead, as evidenced by the victory in Punjab, what it must do is recognise the importance of promoting local leadership in different states. As the results in UP have shown, its national leadership remains an electoral liability. But a strong local leadership in the state can go some way towards keeping it politically relevant. A whole shake up of their national leadership would be ideal for party supporters, but that seems unlikely. The task before the Congress government in Punjab is massive. Both Congress AAP had promised to end the scourge of the drug problem once elected to office.

Besides health and economic productivity, the drug problem in Punjab also poses a grave threat to national security. Allied with these concerns, rural Punjab is also in the midst of a severe agrarian crisis. There has been a spate of farmer suicides in the state. According to a recent study by the Indian Council for Social Science Research, the agrarian crisis is hitting farmers and labourers below the age of 35 the hardest. There is a whole host of reasons behind the crisis—prices of agriculture produce disproportionate to the steep cost of farm inputs, mounting indebtedness, exploitation of farmers by moneylenders and poor quality of inputs. Both the previous State government and Centre has done little to address these concerns. And then there is the crippling lack of employment opportunities in the State merged with the lamentable state of industry—marked by the closure of many factories. Can the Captain reverse the tide?
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