Millennium Post

Punjab in trouble amid political crisis

Can the rot in Punjab be stemmed? Perhaps not, at least in the foreseeable future. Take any field of public activity – politics, economy or governance. The all-round decay which continues unabated makes the Akali-BJP government eligible to claim the rights of the film “Three Idiots” sarcastic title song “All IS (un) WELL”! The observation may appear too sweeping and harsh. But a close look at the happenings in the state, notwithstanding the state’s ruling bosses claims to the contrary, would show that the comments are not wide off the mark.

Once claimed as ‘lifelong allies’, the ruling Akali Dal and BJP have developed fissures which continues to deepen.  If their relationship continues to remain on the downward spiral, one cannot rule out the possibility of their going it alone in the 2017 assembly elections. The beginning for the possible parting of ways has already begun, with the two ruling partners trying to lure each other’s traditional vote banks.

The BJP had failed to take any noticeable ground-level steps in Punjab to implement its decision taken some years back to expand itself to the country’s interiors. After winning the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections, it has started implementing the decision. It is taking steps to make inroads into the Akali Dal’s rural support base. The chief of the party’s think tank RSS Mohan Bhagwat has already paid a number of visits to Punjab for starting RSS shakhas in the semi-urban areas. As a similar move initiated a few years ago had evoked strong protests from some radical Sikh bodies and the plan had to be abandoned.

The development needs to be seen in the background of the Akali Dal’s starting efforts after coming to power in 2007 and especially on 2012 elections eve, to make inroads into the BJP’s Hindu-dominated urban areas, which are also the form the main support base of the Congress. Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal was able to lure a number of Hindu leaders to join his party and gave them party tickets to fight elections.

In a way, these developments are good for Punjab as these events will lend an inclusive character to the hitherto by and large single community parties in the otherwise communally sensitive Punjab. The Badals have been rightly claiming that the alliance between Akali Dal and BJP has ensured communal harmony. Ironically, the claim implies that the two parties are basically communal and if there is no unity between them there will be communal disharmony in Punjab!

The second factor which has contributed to the straining of their relations is the Prime Minister Modi’s ostensibly indifferent and unhelpful attitude towards the Akali leadership. This is indicated by the Centre’s failure to concede its repeated requests to provide help to Punjab to overcome the serious crises the government is facing on different issues, especially on the financial front. The Centre has not accepted Punjab’s demand for special financial package. The Akali leadership, however, cannot absolve itself from being mainly responsible the state’s poor financial condition. The government has not only failed to fully utilise the funds given by the UPA government or diverted the grants for unspecified purposes. It has also virtually bankrupted the state’s treasury by its decisions to grant freebies and huge subsidies to garner votes for winning elections.

These issues have generated strong wave of anti-incumbency as the government is unable to pay or delays payment of dues to various claimants. Certain sections of employees are not paid salaries on time. Payment of pensions and scholarships is delayed for months. The media headlines daily report about the protests by different sections of people including commission agents, for non-payment of their dues. Last week Punjab and Haryana High Court threatened contempt of court against Education department’s top officers if the Rs 100 crore grant-in-aid was not released in ten days for 30 government-aided private colleges.   

Memory cannot fail about how the top ruling Akali brass used to condemn the UPA government for allegedly discriminating against Punjab in granting financial help. It even used to hold Manmohan Singh government responsible for the smuggling of drugs from across the international border although some of those among the biggest drug racketeers have allegedly been found to be Akali Dal’s own loyalists including some holding high positions.

The shaky state of the Akali-BJP alliance offers opportunities to the opposition which, however, stands virtually crippled because of its disunity. The Congress has not learnt any lesson from its polls debacles. Unless the party high command forges unity in its state unit and strengthens its organisationl structure there is little hope of the party offering an effective fight to Akali Dal and BJP in 2017. It is perhaps time to assign important role in Punjab to Capt. Amarinder Singh whose fighting potential can pose serious challenge to Akali Dal and BJP as indicated by his winning Amritsar Lok Sabha seat.  The other two mainstream parties BSP and Left, which once had an impressive presence in state politics, stand marginalised. Lately, there has been a welcome attempt by the Left parties to join hands to launch public campaign on burning issues facing Punjab. Their public rally at Ludhiana last week drew huge crowds.

Manpreet Singh Badal’s Peoples Party of Punjab is virtually in limbo although efforts have lately been started to infuse life in its organisational set-up. If the Punjab’s mainstream opposition parties shake hands, they can force expanded multi-cornered contests in 2017, which otherwise will mainly be a fight between the Akali Dal, BJP and Congress. 

As Punjab’s financial crisis has assumed alarming proportions, one hopes that the prime minister who has spent more time in visiting foreign countries than solving the home country’s problems and attending the Parliament’s budget session, will pay heed to the problems chief ministers present at their meeting called by Modi on 7 December. During the UPA’s tenure an expert committee had recommended special measures to provide relief to three heavily indebted states of Punjab, West Bengal and Kerala. One is not aware if the Centre has taken any follow-up action to implement the expert committee’s recommendations.
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