Tuesday, October 22, 2002, Chandigarh, India


S P E C I A L    E D I T O R I A L

Who cares for Punjab?
Hari Jaisingh

IT is a pity that Punjab is badly caught in unhealthy competitive politics at a time when the sole concern of the government and the opposition parties should have been development of the state. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is desperately trying to revive itself politically by adopting the path of confrontation, thinking that its survival depends on taking to the streets. The SAD has come out with a 15-point charter of demands, seeking free power for farmers and the Dalits, restoration of the shagun scheme, pension to the aged, the handicapped and widows, rollback of sales tax on fertilisers and pesticides and deferring of the payment of loan instalments, waiving of the interest thereon and withdrawal of cuts in the salaries and allowances of the government employees.

No one will dispute the need for social welfare schemes, a fair deal for kisans and the uplift of the poor and the downtrodden. We have often passionately pleaded for striking a just socio-economic balance so that the gap between the rich and the poor is bridged. However, political masters have to pause and think that no administration inheriting an empty public exchequer can create unlimited "treasure" like the legendary Alladin's magic wand. SAD chief Parkash Singh Badal should know this better than any other leader in Punjab since he ruled the state for full five years till the voters showed him the door for non-governance, non-performance and rampant corruption. Instead of taking to the agitational path, SAD leaders should have done some soul-searching, not in terms of politics, but keeping the people's interests in mind. Have they done so?

It is, indeed, a sad commentary on India's political life that no leader tries to understand the real problems facing the people and learn from his/her past mistakes. Everything is seen through the prism of money and votebank politics. Can the standard of living of farmers, Dalits and other backward classes be raised by this politics of drift and brinkmanship? The concern of all politicians, including those belonging to the SAD, should be the farmers' plight in the face of the unfriendly World Trade Organisation (WTO) regime. Free electricity and other subsidies alone cannot help them unless they are assisted substantially in the critical area of modern farm techniques and the switch-over from the present crop pattern to other lucrative alternatives.

The previous regime's failures are glaring. The performance of the Congress government during the past eight months has been equally disappointing, keeping in view the people's high expectations. Corruption is definitely a major problem. But it cannot be tackled by rhetoric, especially with the quality of persons who run the establishment on behalf of Capt Amarinder Singh. To fight corruption effectively, the team chosen by the Chief Minister has to be honest, transparent and clean. Is it really so? The problem with the Chief Minister is that he lacks the art of political management and communication which alone can generate confidence among all sections of society. Capt Amarinder Singh, in the first place, has to be sure of his economic agenda and the direction he wishes to take for time-bound development. As for the problem of corruption, it cannot be solved selectively and in a partisan manner. This is a long-term challenge for which the entire politico-administrative system has to be thoroughly revamped. Former Chief Minister Badal is only taking full advantage of the grey areas in governance, possibly with some sympathy signals from the BJP-led government at the Centre.

Who cares for Punjab's pressing problems? Who will gain if the state's economy continues to be sick? Who will thrive if Punjab and its people suffer? The advantage in such circumstances will only go to Pakistan-sponsored militancy for which the state had to pay a heavy price for over a decade. We seem to have forgotten what the people of Punjab have gone through. Let there be no illusion on this count. Equally disquieting is the free mixing of politics and religion. One does not have to dwell at length on this subject. We can only objectively analyse who is up to what. We also know the real purpose behind the proposed mass movement by the SAD and the BJP along with their new-found partner, the CPI, seven kisan unions and certain factions of the BKU.

The moot point is: will the politics of confrontation help Punjab restore its status as India's number one state? The answer is a simple "no". The question here is not of free power and the crocodile tears being shed for the poor and the dalit. The main issue is: who gains if Punjab falls deeper into the debt trap? Even the World Bank would prefer to look the other way, whatever might be the claims of the Congress government.

Punjab is at the crossroads. It is the time the SAD, the BJP, the Congress and other political sections rise above their petty angularities and think positively for the betterment of the enterprising people of the state.


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