Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first year in office hasn’t ushered in ‘achche din’ that Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal had been counting on even before the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government came to power.
Within the ruling Akali Dal, often referred to as ‘time-tested ally’ by the BJP, there is a growing feeling of let-down by the Centre. Behind this palpable disappointment is Centre’s firm and stunning stand on host of critical issues Badal has red-flagged, so far unsuccessfully, with the Prime Minister. But nowhere is the embarrassment more visible than in Badal’s failure to get the financial bonanza for the cash-strapped border state and reverse Haryana’s contentious legislation to control Sikh shrines.
What has hit hard, especially Badal, is the Centre’s flat refusal to a bailout package for Punjab. The tough stand of the Centre is now haunting the CM, who while campaigning for Arun Jaitley in Amritsar had famously proclaimed that “truckloads of money” would come to Punjab. Neither Jaitley won nor the Centre sent truckloads of money.
Ever since the BJP-led NDA dethroned the Congress-led UPA regime at the Centre last year, the CM and his deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal have consistently knocked at the doors of Prime Minister and other Cabinet ministers with a host of demands and memorandums. In fact, both the father-son duo has ostensibly spent more hours in the national capital in past one year than the number of days they visited their highsecurity offices in the Civil Secretariat here. The outcome, however, has been a ‘high input and no yield scenario’.
The chief minister had in June 2014 submitted a voluminous memorandum to Modi. “Punjabis are entitled to a very special liberal treatment from the Government of India,” read the memorandum. “Punjabis seek no favours. They expect only justice from the Government of India,” pointed out the document Badal had handed over to Modi.
According to former CM Captain Amarinder Singh, Badal, by now, must have realised that the previous Congress-led UPA government was actually generous when it came to providing financial assistance and grants to Punjab.
“The BJP has not granted any financial relief worth a single penny, leave aside truckloads of money,” said Captain. On the other hand, CM’s adviser on national affairs Harcharan Bains says: “The centerpiece of Badal’s political philosophy has always been safeguarding the interests, pride and honour of Punjabis within the national gravitational field.”
LACK OF POLITICAL CHEMISTRY
Also, what is worrying the Akali Dal is the absence of ‘political chemistry’ with the new frontline leadership of the BJP after the old guard of the saffron party was relegated to the sidelines and with whom Badal had a personal rapport.
“When Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister, we would reach Delhi without an appointment and meet him. Now, even seeking an appointment is a Himalayan task. Neither there is any special treatment nor any concession to the SAD,” discloses a key SAD leader.
The first signs of slide became apparent when Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Badal’s daughter-in-law, was sworn in as a Union Cabinet minister but wasn’t offered a plum portfolio, which the Akalis were hoping for.
Another frontal blow came when the BJP leadership didn’t back the ‘fight-to-finish’ stance of Badal when a religious-political tussle unfolded with then Haryana Congress government forming a separate panel for management of Sikh shrines.
Behind this move, the Akali Dal saw a design to dislodge the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). Punjab was on the edge with Badal threatening to “make any sacrifice” to restore the honour and authority of the SGPC. Badal had dubbed as “dangerous” the Haryana government’s move.
Finally, Badal had to retreat. And the matter is yet to be resolved.
“Actually, the BJP wants to be seen maintaining a distance from us on any issue concerning Punjab,” says an Akali leader.
DEBT RELIEF PACKAGE DENIED
SAD sources say, in his meetings and memorandums to Modi, Badal had sought `1.02 lakh crore waiver on outstanding debt. The state government said the mounting debt was the result of militancy and that Punjab fought the national battle for which it should not be penalised.
While meeting Modi, sources say, Badal had pointed out that the 13th Finance Commission had already placed Punjab along with Kerala and West Bengal in the category of revenue-deficit states, recommending to the Union government to find out ways to bail out these states from financial stringency.
Finally, Punjab’s hopes of ‘truckloads of cash’, as often claimed by deputy CM Sukhbir Badal in the build-up to the Lok Sabha polls last year, were dashed when the 14th finance commission rejected the border state’s much-argued case of being debt-stressed.
“The Congress had acknowledged Punjab’s serious debt problem. The least NDA would have done was not to undo what the UPA did on debt issue. This has caused a needless embarrassment to the Akali Dal,” says SAD leader.
The SAD leadership was hoping to pull its political cart fast with this liberal financial package. But it was not to be. Lack of resources has threatened the much-touted development plank and the ‘achche din’ don’t appear anywhere on the horizon.