The contentious issue of special economic zones (SEZ) is unlikely to find a mention in the election manifesto for Punjab.
The Manifesto Committee, led by Pranab Mukherjee, met on Monday to discuss the draft but chose not to make a mention SEZ in it.
"The Centre is looking into the matter. A Group of Ministers has been set up to go into the issue. A national policy has to be framed on the basis of inputs from various sections. Why should a national issue be then included in the state manifesto?'' said a Congress leader who is on 11-member Manifesto Committee.
The External Affairs Minister is expected to finalise the document before he goes to Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Even if the party has not included the SEZ issue in the draft manifesto for Punjab, the matter has been on the minds of Congress leaders. At the Congress Chief Ministers' conclave in Nainital in September 2006, Sonia Gandhi herself had directed that such zones be set up on non-agricultural land and farmers be adequately compensated for their land and even made stakeholders in the projects coming up on their acquired land.
The SEZ issue came up at the party's regular briefing on Monday. Spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan denied that the Congress has set up a panel to study the issue. ``There is no committee, the Congress has not sought for, commissioned, asked or received any report. If there is any interaction between an individual (Congressman) or a minister (on the issue), it is not within our knowledge,'' she said while reacting to a report.
The report said that in an internal document Veerappa Moily had warned that SEZs would cost the party dearly in elections. Quizzed on it, Moily said he had given his ``personal views'' to Mukherjee who heads the GoM on the subject.
He added that SEZs would ``ultimately benefit'' the Congress and the speed of setting them up should be accelerated.
Though the Punjab manifesto may not refer to the SEZ issue it would send out a strong signal that the farming community remains high on its agenda. Sources said that the document focuses on the ``aam aadmi'' and talks about providing adequate power, water, infrastructure and faster development for the state.
And to wipe out the stigma of the adverse sex ratio in the prosperous state, it emphasises the need to check female foeticide. It is also expected to deal with the problem of drug addition among youths.
But no, there is no promise of free power, given Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's strong objection to such sops. Instead, the Congress is likely to reach out to the powerful farming community by giving a stirring call for a second green revolution.
The document, as Chief Minister Amarinder said last week, would focus on three aspects---the achievements of his government, the electoral promises of 2002 that it fulfilled and its vision for the future. It will go into the elections on the plank of development.