Punjab Prisoner of Destiny
THE spate of publicity on the achievements of the Akali BJP government in Punjab would make any one laugh if not sad. Mere signing of a feasibility study for metros in Ludhiana and Amritsar is project in full page advertisements as major an achievement.
Prakash Singh Badal, the fourth time chief minister and his Akali Dal could not win power on its own. In fact, it just matched the Congress. Akalis secured just 49 seats. BJP, the coalition partner with 19 seats snatched the victory from the Congress that had won 44 seats and helped form the government. Now it wants its pound of flesh and is no longer prepared to tolerate the overbearing attitude of the chief minister or his colleagues. Currently a war is on. This may not threaten the existence of the government, but is leaves it badly mauled. There is less cohesion among the Akali ministers. There are too many power centers budding all around. There is Sukhbir Singh Badal, the only son of the chief minister and currently acting president of the Akali Dal eagerly waiting to step in. He is not letting any occasion go take over from his father. Many ministers and legislators would perhaps not like to have a new chief minister. Badal who has a national status. BJP has said no to this kind of inheritance. All this is adding to the disenchantment of the people.
Prakash Singh Badal is being drained not by the Congress, but his own cabinet colleagues and the BJP. The issue is fiscal management. Punjab by now has incurred a debt of over 52,764 crore and its rising every day. The state once leading other provinces is unable to collect enough to meet its planned commitments as it spends nearly 76 per cent of the taxes it collects on salaries and pensions. This government has no inkling to take the desperate farmers out of the agrarian crisis. It has no money as the vice chancellor of the Punjab agriculture Ludhiana Dr Manjt Singh Kang says for the much needed research in agriculture, but it can squander in grants elsewhere. Farmers committing suicides and suffering for growing more for the country too are in deep debt. Punjab is not projected to cross 6 per cent growth during the next five years when the country is poised to cross nine per cent.
School and higher education as everyone knows in Punjab is in hodgepodge state and health service is dwindling. Cities and towns are rotting like putrefied wounds. As Mr. Badal rightly points out the canal system to irrigate to a respectable level the fields needs an urgent doze of Rs 4,000 crore in next three years. Electricity generation and distribution besides roads and other infra structure needs another Rs 8,000 crore. Mr. Badal whose head is full of dreams; world class airports, sate of the art Adarsh schools in each block, universities and sports complexes besides first rate air conditioned bus service all over Punjab. In day dreaming father son duo has no match. But sadly have little clue to get the state out of the rotten position.
The attempt instead is to isolate those who might have ideas to get the state out of the present chaotic position. Mr. Badal’s nephew and finance minister Mr. Manpreet Singh Badal is currently the focus of attention. In newspapers interviews, he has clearly spelt out the present regime of subsidies [roughly 4,000 crore] as untenable. He may sound bitter when he says, “ideally we should cap it at the present Rs 4,000 crore annually or better still halve it. But I find our coalition partner, the BJP, is more responsive to capping subsidy than my own party. If we carry on the same way for another couple of years, bankruptcy will anyway force us to do away with freebies. Tax collections, which in a consumer-driven state like Punjab, should be Rs 15,000 crore annually, is just about Rs 5,000 crore. So this too needs attention.” He is not wrong telling it publicly as he has failed to convince the chief minister and the government and is not scared of losing his position. “No sacrifice for Punjab is small and I am prepared to swallow the poison. If I prove wrong.”
The government has increased the rate of electricity supply, which is always in short supply and is erratic. BJP has raised serious objections and its ministers have repeatedly made their resentment public. Their objection is that urban consumers are being penalised and rural consumers who get free power for their farms are enjoying at their cost. They allege that this is unfair. There should indeed by one yardstick for all classes. BJP fears its support dwindling and it has been adequately demonstrated during the municipal elections in four major cities of Punjab. It also wonders with adequate numbers, it should not be denied the position of the deputy chief minister. Its leaders no longer wish to be just poor urban cousins of the rural commanders.
Mr. Badal keeps pleading with his colleagues and allies to take care of when they speak to the journalists and blames the media, the messenger for the ills of his coalition politics and populist measures. Old war horse is busier in publicity campaigns, wasting public funds than governing. Common is frustrated as he has neither dignity nor any economic advantage from the present setup. Those who throng the Sangat Darshan of the chief minister with small complaints tell their own tale of neglect and harassment at the hands of the administration. The rulers need to remember and Punjab is a modern state and no one fiefdom and at stake is not their rule, but the future of our children.