Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal does not believe in symbolism. In his second innings in power, the deputy chief minister has shown the BJP as to who is the big brother in the coalition -- when it comes to making or announcing important policy decisions in the ministries headed by the saffron party. Now, junior Badal is all set to make his presence felt even in the ministry headed by his brother-in-law Adesh Partap Singh Kairon.
Barely two days after food and civil supplies minister Kairon attended the meeting of state food ministers in New Delhi and lent his weight to the chorus of non-Congress-ruled states to allow more say and money to states for implementing the UPA's ambitious Food Security Act, the Punjab cabinet on Thursday formed an empowered committee under Sukhbir to implement the Act it in the state.
Brainchild of Sukhbir, the 'atta dal' scheme was the centre-piece of the SAD poll manifesto for the 2007 assembly elections. However, Kairon, who has been heading the ministry since the alliance came to power in 2007, was credited with implementing the scheme. The chief minister's son-in-law not only broadened the scheme's ambit by including more "poor" -- the numbers jumped from 9 lakh in 2007 to 15.8 lakh in 2011 -- but also kept the scheme afloat through heavy loans taken by the state procurement agencies. For SAD, the ingenuous scheme proved to be the key poll clincher in the closely-fought assembly elections in 2012.
It's a different matter that the scheme has severely stretched the state's subsidy bill. Till August this year, the outstanding dues on account of the atta-dal scheme of the state agencies stood at Rs. 1,700 crore.
Interestingly, Kairon has been made a part of the three-member empowered committee that also includes industry minister Madan Mohan Mittal and finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa.
Sukhbir, a Masters in economics from a US university, is likely to take the poll fizz out of the Centre's Food Security Act vis-a-vis his party's atta-dal scheme. In fact, soon after the UPA government enacted the Act, SAD MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal was quick to pooh-pooh it as a copycat of the atta-dal scheme.
As the head of the empowered panel on the Act, this would be Sukhbir's first foray in the ministry helmed by his brother-in-law. The deputy chief minister has so far shown a distinct penchant for driving - and garnering credit - for important policy announcements in the ministries headed by Akali and BJP ministers.
Sukhbir had overshadowed the then industry minister Anil Joshi of the BJP while announcing the new industrial policy earlier this year. Again, BJP leaders were conspicuous by their absence in the official delegation that Sukhbir led to Turkey last month even though the civic projects he went to study fall in the domain of the local bodies department, a portfolio traditionally held by the BJP.