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Halfway mark: Coalition under severe strain

“We deliver what we promise.” This was the game-changing catchphrase of the Shiromani Akali Dal’s ‘Dare to Dream’ vision for its 2012-17. And the “firm commitment” of turning this vision into a reality catapulted the SAD-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine to a stunning second consecutive win, in the assembly elections held in January 2012.

chandigarh Updated: Sep 14, 2014 14:46 IST
Pawan Sharma

“We deliver what we promise.” This was the game-changing catchphrase of the Shiromani Akali Dal’s ‘Dare to Dream’ vision for its 2012-17. And the “firm commitment” of turning this vision into a reality catapulted the SAD-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine to a stunning second consecutive win, in the assembly elections held in January 2012.

Today, the Parkash Singh Badal-led government is battling ebbing popularity as it reaches the halfway mark of its five-year second term. Its vision of what Punjab should be at the end of its five-year term, and how it should look several decades down the line, seems to have blurred.

Fiscal health of the state remains a cause of worry, and the government continues to maintain a studied silence over its failure to fulfil commitments such as doubling old-age and widow pension or raising to Rs 31,000 the Shagun scheme amount. Free laptops for students of Classes 11 and 12 are on hold, while creating 10 lakh jobs and the much-touted metro rail in Ludhiana remain pipedreams.

However, the past 30 months also saw the government pushing itself towards making the state power-surplus with focus on infrastructure, improving governance, and stamping out the drug menace, though only after it emerged as a major issue in the Lok Sabha elections.

Wake-up call

The dramatic verdict of May 16 Lok Sabha election dealt a body blow to the Badal regime, as it could not really ride the Modi wave and could barely hold on to its earlier tally. After that, the Punjab regime woke up from slumber and sought to arrest the inertia which had gripped it. The starkness of the Lok Sabha poll results was apparent in the fact that the ruling coalition government had won in just 45 of the 117 assembly segments that form the 13 parliamentary seats in Punjab. It won six seats — SAD down from five to four, BJP up from one to two. This was barely two years after it had pulled off a stunning victory by bagging 68 seats.The shock of the Lok Sabha poll verdict — BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley lost from Amritsar while the chief minister’s daughter-in-law, SAD’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal retained Bathinda by a thin margin — was such that CM Badal saw the writing on the wall and began running his government from the civil secretariat finally instead of his residence.Ministers too began coming to the secretariat regularly after firm directives issued by the CM. He began raiding offices of top bureaucrats to restore punctuality in offices and a semblance of “good governance.”Finally, the government was seen running from Chandigarh with everyone on toes. And Badal, the grand old man of Punjab’s politics, took the reins firmly to cash in on the ‘Achhe Din’ or ‘Good Days’ promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Achhe Din, very dim

Earlier, the Badal regime blamed the Congress-led UPA government for all the ills afflicting Punjab. Now, instead of shouting at the Centre, it will have to swallow quietly the dejection when the wish list — realistic or otherwise — of CM Badal doesn’t find favour at the Centre. Ever since the Modi government assumed office in May, CM Badal and deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal have been repeatedly knocking at the doors of key union ministers, seeking grants.So lengthy is the list of wishes and demands that so far the CM has sought a whopping Rs 26,000 crore and some more in grants — an amount almost equal to this year’s projected development expenditure — for a plethora of sectors ranging from agriculture to animal husbandry. So far, however, the Centre has not obliged.

Jaitley letter, and other blows

A major blow came when finance minister Jaitley touched a raw nerve by asking the Badal regime to “rationalise” the farm subsidy such as free power, and dashed demands of a special financial package. Nor has the Centre given any weightage to Punjab government’s plea for Rs 2,330-crore special assistance to “mitigate the effects of deficient rainfall”. Even in the Union budget, Punjab’s demand for a special industrial package did not find mention.

During his numerous meetings with Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh, the CM has demanded Rs 330 crore for a fisheries project in the waterlogged areas of southern Punjab; hike in minimum support price (MSP) of crops; assured marketing of alternative crops like maize; a comprehensive debt relief package for farmers; approval for a crop diversification plan of Rs 7,921 crore; and Rs 4,900 crore for canal rehabilitation project.On Saturday, the latest demand was that Rs 3,500 being given by the Centre per acre to farmers for compensating their loss due to natural disaster was too little, keeping in view the exorbitant hike in prices of farm inputs.

“With the change of guard at the Centre, hopefully the NDA government will look into this matter sympathetically,” Badal said on Saturday.

Opposition within and outside

“Now, Badal must explain why he has failed to get any package from the NDA. Where are the ‘achhe din’? Will Badal dare to accept that the NDA is anti-Punjab?” senior Congress leader and former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal quipped.

Another worry before the CM and his deputy is the newfound aggressiveness of state BJP leaders.

The defeat of Jaitley from Amritsar at the hands of Congress’ Captain Amarinder Singh exposed the SAD as well as BJP leaders of Punjab. And the state’s BJP leaders, in an apparent bid to save their skin, are making shrill noises.

This cold war is set to test to the hilt the trust and ties between the SAD and the BJP in the next 30 months. It will also define the policies of this government as the public awaits fulfillment of grand promises.