M A I N   N E W S

The Centre’s offer to waive Punjab’s debt has developed into an 
all-out battle within the SAD with Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal torn between his son Sukhbir and his nephew Manpreet 
Naveen S Garewal and Chitleen K Sethi
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh October 7
In the three years of its reign in the state, the Shiromani Akali Dal today came closest to what can be termed as an “ugly chasm” brought about not by the party’s coalition partner, the BJP, but by the Badal family that dominates the ruling party.

The row is over Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal endorsing a Central Government offer to waive debt totalling Rs 35,000 crore, which is close to half the state’s total debt burden, in return for acceding to certain conditions laid down by the Centre.

The Finance Minister’s statements has been at variance on the issue with his own Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. Matters came to head when SAD’s core committee/political affairs committee met late yesterday night and authorised the CM to take whatever action he thought necessary against Manpreet for breaching party discipline and embarrassing SAD.

Thursday began with hectic political parleys, set rolling by the SAD’s core committee meeting to the issuing of the “kiss-and-make-up” press note by the CM only to be followed by Manpreet’s not-so-charitable press conference in the afternoon and a final sharp reaction by the CM against him late in the evening that left the SAD fabric completely stretched, if not actually torn. Manpreet, despite being a senior leader of the party, is not called for the core committee meetings any more and last night was no different. Sources add that core committee members openly spoke against Manpreet and among those most agitated at the “public statements” made by Manpreet in the recent past, was Sukhbir, the heir apparent and the Deputy Chief Minister.

Since Manpreet was not there to defend himself, core committee members had a field day and insisted that action be taken against him for overstepping his brief. Sources add that the CM, however, remained unmoved and the meeting ended with the members formally authorising him to take “appropriate” action against Manpreet. “I came to know about the bickering against me last night itself. But I went to meet the CM only this morning when I heard about his having slipped from the stairs. I met him in the PGI,” said Manpreet today. Manpreet obviously did not spend the night resting. By the morning, he had gathered four MLAs around him and several supporters and had decided to go public about his disillusionment with the party. Some, however, hint that he was even ready with his resignation.

Sources say during his meeting with the CM, Manpreet expressed his unhappiness over the way he was discussed in the core committee meeting and also reportedly blamed Sukhbir for having encouraged others to speak against him. He even offered to step down in case everyone was so unhappy with him. The CM assured him that no action would be taken against him and that he should forgive and forget the whole thing. “I told the CM that I had not moved secretly over the issue of the debt waiver and kept him in the loop at all times,” said Manpreet.

After Manpreet left the CM, the CM was informed that Manpreet had called a press conference over the issue. The CM then reportedly called Manpreet asking him to cancel the press conference and not air his resentment in public. Sources add that Manpreet said that the CM should in that case issue a statement saying that all was now well and party men should refrain from talking against him.

Gagandeep Brar, the CM’s OSD rushed to Manpreet’s residence with a tentative statement, which, sources say, was rejected by Manpreet. The press note was changed and only when Manpreet and the CM’s aides agreed upon the text, a “kiss-and-made-up” press note was issued to the media minutes before Manpreet’s press conference began.

During the press conference, Manpreet lashed out at his detractors within the SAD openly, leveling allegations of being “bullied” by members of the core committee. “They have attempted this in the past and are trying it again. I am deeply hurt and have taken up the matter with the CM, whose trust I enjoy completely,” he said. He went on to add that for those who can’t stand him within the party and want him to quit, “I can only say that I am poised to achieve the greatest breakthrough Punjab by getting its Rs 35,000 crore debt waived form the centre. Summoning of the core committee meeting was uncalled for since I kept the chief minister informed from the very beginning and even made a presentation before the cabinet,” he added.

“Whenever there is any solution in sight for Punjab’s fiscal mess, a deliberate effort is made to derail the issue. I am deeply hurt at the motives and aspersions being cast on me for damaging the party. All I want to say is that my loyalty lies with Akali Dal, Punjab and the nation,” he added. He went on to say that whatever he said on the floor of the House about the centre’s offer to waive Punjab’s debt was in the full knowledge of the CM. “After Captain Amarinder Singh asked for a debate on the fiscal health of the state, I could not conceal the talks with the centre from the House,” he said.

Taking a dig at his cousin Sukhbir, he said, “The Deputy CM talks about providing good governance that will keep the party in power for the next 25 years. How is development of the state possible without money? If this debt is not waived today, it will take three generations for Punjab to pay back what we owe to the Centre.” Terming it as not a mere question of money but of izzat (respect), he said we cannot continue to be a debt ridden state.

By the time the details of Manpreet’s press conference reached the CM, Sukhbir too arrived at PGI to look up his father. The CM seems to have had succumbed to pressure of his son and supporters and issued another statement late this evening reprimanded Manpreet without naming him. It read: “No body was above the party and an action by anybody to undermine the prestige of the party would not been tolerated at any cost. He added that no individual had any right to issue a statement on any issue which had not been discussed and approved by the party. Referring to the issue of debt waiver, Badal stated that he had taken up this issue with GoI as this debt was raised by the state government during the period of militancy, to fight the terrorism which was the Nation’s war,” it said

The CM further said he had discussed this matter with the Union Finance Minister also but the state has received no official response on this issue till date. He added that there was no question of discussing the so-called debt waiver by the GoI, without any positive response from the GoI. “If and when any such offer is received from the government of India , it shall be discussed and decided by the SAD & BJP parties and if approved by them, then only the Government of Punjab shall respond in appropriate manner,” said the CM.





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