In an election which will be my last in a long political career, my thoughts go back to the years of struggle, sacrifices and achievements for the cause of a better, peaceful and prosperous Punjab.
I am driven by a vision of Punjab which moves forward into the era of high development, progress and prosperity.
I am acutely conscious that Punjab and Punjabis have always bestowed a unique honour on me. Even when, despite my best efforts, I have fallen short of their expectations, they have been kind and magnanimous in forgiving me.
As I come for the last time to join you, Punjab is placed in a very historic niche. Its youth are looking at destiny from close quarters. And they demand the right to script their own destiny. My duty is to strengthen those hands.
Finally, we prepared a blueprint which resonates with the dreams and ambitions of our people. In political parlance, they call it a manifesto, but to me, it's a sacred pledge.
The past five years have seen our state progress in every direction. At the same time, there are sections of society which still require special attention. Therefore, we pushed forward with an agenda of hi-tech development, focusing on world-class infrastructure, roads, international airports, air-conditioned travel at near-normal fare for the common man, a network of flyovers, bridges, bypasses, etc. to decongest the state, especially urban areas. We also started thermal plants to make the state power-surplus.
Vast sections of society are reeling under an unprecedented price rise. We have to help them. That’s why we started the atta-daal scheme. There are other pro-poor policies such as the shagun scheme, old-age pension and free cycles to schoolgirls.
The fashionable, corporate mindset, which is the flavour of the day, has ridiculed me for these policies, which they dismiss as freebies. This corporate virus even entered my life, causing a painful family split. I could have avoided it by discontinuing initiatives of this nature.
I could have saved my personal relations with my dearest brother and son Manpreet and earned praise from sections of the English media and armchair economists.
I thought about all this, but in the end, a voice within me said, “No, I cannot betray these millions of hearts that look at me with hope. I cannot betray them just to save my family relations.”
There are big development projects in the pipeline that are nearing completion. We need time to achieve that. It is with a sacred feeling that my party and alliance approach you for a fresh tenure.
Since this will be my last tenure as chief minister, I am determined to make it memorable for the generations to come.
I want to recreate and reinforce the idea of Punjab, which today is hurt and bruised. Punjab no longer has the spirit of entrepreneurship and dynamism and is no longer prosperous and progressive. Something has gone wrong. This drift needs to be arrested and further decline prevented. The average Punjabi may be living a relatively better life today than people living in Bihar and Orissa, but Punjab as a whole is no better than Bihar or Orissa.
The state is ‘debt-stressed’ and there has been no concern to address any of these indicators by those who have been in the corridors of power for past five years. The coming five years are going to be crucial. We have 4.7 million unemployed people in Punjab. This makes it roughly one-fifth of the population of 2.74 crore. Agriculture is no longer remunerative. A major shift is required to high-value cash crops to enable the agricultural sector to become viable; otherwise, indebtedness and mounting debt will continue to grow, leading to further farmer suicides.
In the industrial field, more than 900 industrial units have already closed or have moved out of the state during the past five years. Law and order is at its worst. As per the government’s own figures, there has been an increase of 65% in incidents of crime from the time their government came into office in 2007.
Drug addiction is rampant. A United Nations-sponsored survey, published by a leading newspaper, revealed that 65% of the youth in Punjab had tried drugs at least once.
Punjab has to make a choice. They have seen the five-year rule of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party government and our five years from 2002 to 2007. We promised and delivered. Did they?
The state needs a progressive leadership that will look beyond sectarian and petty politics. A leadership that will address the problems of unemployment, declining agriculture, the flight of industry and the revamp of the healthcare and education system.
During our last government, we brought investment and commitments to the tune of Rs. 1.07 lakh crore with a potential of 10 lakh jobs. We created an IT hub in Mohali. We started power projects.
Compare this with the current regime’s performance.
Show me the development they claim to have made during their five years. Show me the jobs they have created. Show me a single development project executed in Punjab during the past five years.
Give the Congress a chance and I will show you how promises are kept, how commitments made are fulfilled, and how progress is preferred over prejudice and vendetta. We have done it in the past and we will do it in the future as well.