Ask them to list the development projects initiated by Surjit Singh Barnala in his home constituency as chief minister, and most Barnala residents draw a blank.
Surjit Singh Barnala may have been an Akali heavyweight, but his failure to nurture his constituency has not helped his cause. The support base of the octogenarian leader is dwindling.
Though his family members give him the credit for bringing about industrial growth in the Barnala belt, they fail to come up with a convincing answer when asked to specify any major development projects initiated by the former CM in his hometown.
Gaganjit cites peace for lack of development
“He never favoured his home constituency. He focused on Punjab as a whole without any partiality,” says former SAD MLA and Surjit Singh Barnala’s son Gaganjit Barnala.
His argument, however, is not entirely misplaced. When Barnala took over the reins of the state in 1985, the trend of CMs pumping funds into their home constituencies was non-existent. He served as chief minister from September 29, 1985 to May 11, 1987 when President’s rule was imposed in the state.
“At that time, our priority was to maintain law and order, bring peace and remove the slur on Punjab that it had become a state of anti-nationals. There was hardly any time to think about the development agenda. But my father did bring industry to Barnala. People should give him credit for it,” says Gaganjit, replying on behalf of his ailing father.
But people not convinced
Barnala resident Krishan Kumar, an experienced educationist, says, “It could be that militancy cast a shadow on development works during Barnala’s tenure as chief minister. But you cannot brush aside the fact that he had done nothing for the Barnala Lok Sabha and Barnala assembly constituencies. We have no district complex or government college. The city has only one government senior secondary school. The medical facilities are lacking.”
Advocate Shivdarshan Kumar Sharma, a resident of Barnala, also voices his resentment: “Surjit Singh Barnala failed to do anything substantial for his constituency as chief minister and union minister. There is nothing we can list as his achievement. People have rejected him for this very reason. Leave alone development projects, he even failed to make Barnala a district.”
Even shifting base to Dhuri did not help
This neglect has reflected in the election results, too. Surjit Singh Barnala lost the 1999 Lok Sabha election from here. The shrinking support forced his son Gaganjit Singh Barnala to shift his base to Dhuri.
But even this did not help the family much. Though Gaganjit won the 2002 assembly election from Dhuri, he lost the seat by a huge margin in 2007.
Surjit Singh Barnala, once a leading figure in Akali politics, is struggling hard to keep himself politically alive. He had entered into an alliance with the Sanjha Morcha for the SGPC polls, but his party candidates were routed. Later, he joined hands with Akali rebel Manpreet Singh Badal-led PPP.
Barnala’s wife holding fort
The former chief minister's wife, Surjit Kaur Barnala, tried to hold on to her husband's legacy in his absence. Surjit Singh Barnala was out of Punjab for almost two decades since 1990 as governor of three states from time to time. His wife has been heading the SAD (Longowal) since its inception three years ago. She had won the assembly election from Barnala in 1977, but never contested after that. "So far, we have no plans for the forthcoming elections. But if the situation so demands, I may jump into the poll fray," she told HT over the phone.
Alliance with congress?
There are rumours that his party, SAD (Longowal), would merge with the Congress as the family is worried about Gaganjit’s political future. Though the Barnalas rubbish the rumours, even they are aware that the scales are tilted against them and they cannot do it on their own.