What better than a direct populist appeal to the poor to find support for populist schemes. Hoping to convince the state’s voters on his government’s subsidy policy, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Monday brought up the spectre of starvation for the poor, warning that was what would happen were the government to accept ousted finance minister Manpreet Badal’s suggestions.
The state government would never adopt a policy that meant snatching the poor man’s “roti”, he declared. Sukhbir had a line for the intellectuals too: The state is way behind in debt as compared to most “well to do” states such as Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Also, the amount owed to the Centre was Rs 3,500, and not Rs 35,000. The rest was to banking institutions. On subsidising the life of the poor, Sukhbir said taking back the benefits — as suggested by his “brother” (did not name Manpreet) — would mean every poor family would have to bear an extra expense of Rs 30,000 per month in terms of electricity and canal water bills, cost of food grain and medical care.
Sukhbir said the government could never approve a policy that would mean the BPL families paid Rs 20 per kg for atta, instead of Rs 4, and Rs 100 per kg for dal, instead of Rs 20.
“My brother wanted the government to charge monthly power bill from farmers, stop the 200 free units of power being given to Scheduled Caste families and impose taxes on fertilisers as well as diesel and petrol, thereby taking the commodities out of the common man’s reach.
Also, following his contentions, free travel to students and senior citizens would have to be stopped, and every government hospital would have to charge Rs 500 per slip for single admission, against the present Rs 2 per from poor patients,” Badal told a public gathering.
Asking the beneficiaries to “decide if they wanted subsidies or extra financial burden,” Sukhbir declared: “no force or pressure can make this government withdraw the poor-friendly schemes.” “Come what may, this government will not… snatch the roti from the mouth of the poor.”,” Giving the argument to prove Punjab did not have a serious case of indebtedness, Sukhbir claimed wrong figures were bring quoted in the media. Punjab’s actual debt towards the Centre stood at Rs 3,500 crore, and not Rs 35,000 crore, he claimed.
He explained the rest of the debt was in the shape of RBI or bank bonds and small saving schemes, which was not under the purview of the Union government. Citing debt figures for other states, he said it was wrong to say Punjab was “neck deep in debt”.
Sukhbir claimed Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra were under a debt of Rs 2.21 lakh crore and 2.05 lakh crore, respectively. Similarly, West Bengal owed Rs 1.92 lakh crore, Andhra Pradesh Rs 1.26 lakh crore, Gujarat Rs 1.05 lakh crore, Rajasthan Rs 90,000 crore, Tamil Nadu Rs 74,000 crore and Karnataka 65,000 crore. “Whereas, the total debt of Punjab is a mere Rs 64,000 crore, and is still being portrayed as serious. Why?” he asked.
Dhindsa’s olive branch, warning
Ostensibly offering an olive branch to Manpreet Badal, SAD secretary general Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa said it was not too late for him to reconsider his decision. “It is unfortunate he defied Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, but he is still as dear to the chief minister as others. To err is human…,” Dhindsa said.. However, he followed it up with a jibe, saying history was replete with examples from Lachman Singh Gill and Gurnam Singh to Surjit Singh Barnala, people who went against the philosophy of SAD, but never survived politically.
‘Going hungry no solution’
Taking a dig at his cousin Manpreet Badal, Sukhbir said “those speaking against subsidy” perhaps forget one can’t save by skipping lunch or dinner. He said nowhere in the world would a poor family be to told cut back on food. “Instead, the head of the family is advised to mobilise additional resources, or to put in extra efforts to earn more. The same holds true for a government.” “A government can’t improve its financial health by snatching the bread from a poor man, but it could certainly deal with a financial crisis by generating funds from other means, as we did by doubling VAT collection from Rs 5,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore in three years.
Also, excise collection has reached 2,500 crore from Rs 1,500 crore, and is expected to cross 3,000 crore the next year,” Sukhbir Badal said. He said his government had already spotted various other resources too for revenue, which could fund the pro-poor programmes. Answering a question, he said it was the party that made a leader. “A leader without the support of the party is a nonentity. Without a party base, no one, not even Sukhbir Singh Badal, can survive politically,” he declared.