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Honeymoon's over

chandigarh Updated: Jun 22, 2012 12:14 IST
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"Continuity with speed". That's how Sukhbir Singh Badal had flagged his challenges soon after the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party's stunning comeback to power in March. Three months on, the deputy chief minister, who fancies himself as the "CEO of Punjab", has little to write home about his agenda-setting mantra. The first 100 days of a government are only a fraction of its five-year term. Yet, this initial span is the critical time when the ruling dispensation sets out its pace and priorities.

For the ruling coalition, it has so far been a roller-coaster ride with a few ups and more downs. The omens do not look good.

A series of high-voltage controversies - the Balwant Singh Rajoana case, the Operation Bluestar memorial and the cow slaughter outrage, to name a few - have drowned out all the right noises the government has made during its second innings.
It defies logic to find how the SAD, a party that had long cast away its 'Panth-in-peril' slogan and instead pitched itself as the prime guarantor of social harmony in Punjab, allowed itself to be acquiesced to an insidious wish list of the radical fringe that has been hell bent upon reviving the tragic past as well as its relevance.

More disconcertingly, the return of such emotive and divisive issues has not only sapped up the SAD-BJP combine's initial flush of energy, but also sharply polarised the Punjab polity - a development that hardly augurs well for the ideas of progress that form the centrepiece of Sukhbir's much-vaunted plans to rev up Punjab's sagging economy and pull the state out of the stunted-growth quagmire.

As if such discordant notes were not jarring enough, the SAD also faced the ignominy of two of its senior ministers - Bibi Jagir Kaur and Tota Singh - getting convicted on such serious charges as abduction and corruption. The alliance did re-establish its hold on the municipal bodies, but its victory was blighted by violence and blatant poll irregularities. The sad reality is that the civic polls were manifestation of the "power-at-any-cost" mindset of the ruling alliance which has only further vitiated the political atmosphere.

Hobbled by a flurry of unsavoury controversies, the government seems to be caught in a drift. Notwithstanding Sukhbir's pro-active attempts to galvanise different sectors of governance, there is little evidence of hardcore policy decisions. Even in its maiden budget presented on Thursday, the ruling coalition failed to break out of the populist mould and shied away from taking a tough call that Punjab so desperately need to halt its economic slide. The budget, though flush with tokenism on austerity, barely laid out any future roadmap. While Sukhbir has pegged his turnaround strategy to building big-ticket infrastructure projects - particularly in the power sector - to attract investors, most of his projects are stuck in delays or hit by resource crunch. Worse, the SAD-BJP alliance's second innings has coincided with a general economic slowdown.

Even the governance reforms that Sukhbir had pushed hard during his first term appear to be losing steam. His government is yet to notify the terms and conditions of the second governance reforms commission which, ironically, has become a victim of administrative red tape and slackness that the panel is expected to reform.

Clearly, much is at stake for the Badal government. It has spent much of its first 100 days on firefighting on the issues that have the potential to bedevil Punjab's hard-earned peace. The honeymoon is over. It's about time chief minister Parkash Singh Badal lets his firm actions speak louder than his emotional homilies.