100 days of Congress govt in Punjab: Sand and fury eclipse Captain’s big moves
A lot of sound and fury, but the Congress government has been found wanting in walking the talk on some of its decisions in the first 100 days. To top it all, it has landed in a trough due to an embarrassing sand mining auction controversy, involving former employees of power minister Rana Gurjit Singh.punjab Updated: Jun 25, 2017 12:59 IST
Back in power after 10 years, the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government began with a bang, taking 120-odd decisions in its first meeting to announce governance reforms and implement populist promises from the poll manifesto.
The ministers spent the next few weeks ordering one inquiry after the other – the most recent being the ones announced in the just-concluded assembly session into land encroachment, fund embezzlement and diversion of central funds. There was also talk of giving clean governance, going after sand, liquor and transport mafia and tackling conflict of interest.
A lot of sound and fury, but the Congress government has been found wanting in walking the talk on some of its decisions in the first 100 days. To top it all, it has landed in a trough due to an embarrassing sand mining auction controversy, involving former employees of power minister Rana Gurjit Singh.
SLUGGISH RESPONSE, OPPN GRABS CHANCE
When the controversy broke, the government took time to respond. The first reaction was to dismiss the charges despite unease among its ranks, letting the opposition, in particular Congressman-turned-Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Sukhpal Khaira, grab the opportunity and hit out at the government, as more damaging information came out.
By the time the government acted, setting up an inquiry commission headed by a retired high court judge and cancelled the auction of remaining sand mines, things had gone out of hand. The fiasco not only fired up the AAP and the SAD-BJP, but also deflected attention from its promising start with ban on red beacons on VIP vehicles, curbs on ministers’ foreign visits, assets disclosure by state employees and reservation for women in government jobs. Soon, no one was talking about them.
MISSED OPPORUNITY TO HIGHLIGHT MEGA MOVES
Amarinder, in his speech in the assembly last Monday, announced a Rs 9,500-crore farm debt waiver to benefit more than 10 lakh small and marginal farmers and free smart phones to 50 lakh youth. Despite being constrained by a fiscal mess inherited from the previous government, finance minister Manpreet Badal whose main worry in the coming months will be to scrounge up cash to keep the state treasury running, also made financial provision.
Before the government could beat drum rolls, the announcements were lost in the assembly din, amplified protests over tossing of turbans and injuries to members. Despite a near two-thirds majority in the 117-strong House, it carried on the proceedings without the opposition for two days. The AAP and SAD-BJP members remained in protest mode, grabbing the headlines.
While the government managed to ensure the sandstorm does not blow in the assembly, some of its members, especially tourism minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, were needlessly combative, entering into arguments. “There was no need to conduct legislative business without the opposition. After all, this was just the first major session. When the opposition parties joined forces, its strategists were caught off guard and showed no political management skills,” said a political observer, requesting anonymity.
But these are still early days. The 100-day marker, though too short a period to pass any judgement on the state government, is a pointer to the direction in which it is headed. Amarinder has declared that this is his last political term and would want to go out with the flag flying high. Given the situation in Punjab that was once ranked among the frontline states of the country, it’s a huge task. And Capt has his work cut out for him.
MAHARAJA AND HIS NAVRATNAS
Capt Amarinder Singh: The two-time chief minister is in total command, showing surefootedness and determination to fulfil his party’s poll promises. With his charisma intact, the Capt has been speaking his mind on national issues also – out of sync with his party’s position at times. His response to ‘sandstorm’ did not show him in a good light though.
Brahm Mohindra: Once a bête noire of Amarinder and now his confidant, the health minister is the second most important minister in the cabinet. As parliamentary affairs minister, he steered the government in the Vidhan Sabha, determining the floor strategy.
Manpreet Badal: Once a crusader for fiscal prudence, the architect of the party’s populist election manifesto finds himself doing the unenviable of job of juggling funds for lofty poll promises. Manpreet gets credit for laying bare the state of finances and opening his purse strings only to the extent he can afford to. He scores for 100% participation in the assembly and his subtle digs at his estranged cousin, SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal.
Rana Gurjit Singh: Famously infamous, the power and irrigation minister became a cause for embarrassment to the government over his alleged benami participation in sand mining auction. Immaculately dressed, he is Punjab’s richest MLA known for courting controversies.
Navjot Singh Sidhu: Local bodies minister is quick to decide. He wants to do a lot but believes words speak louder than action. Badal bashing tops his agenda. He is media savvy and popular among Congress MLAs.
Aruna Chaudhary: She courted controversy soon after becoming education minister as her husband tried controlling the department’s functioning. Poor results of Classes 10 and 12 brought her department into focus again. With the CM wanting to improve the education system, she has an important role to play.
Charanjit Singh Channi: He was downsized as a cabinet minister and was allotted the portfolio of technical education. But Channi has a penchant for making news and has taken on vice-chancellors of technical universities. He made the assembly pass the amendment bill on appointment of heads of universities. He tries to make a point of order during assembly debates, never mind what he says.
Tript Bajwa Singh: The rural development and panchayats minister keeps a low profile. He fits best into Amarinder’s scheme of things as he works effectively minus controversies. He unearthed irregularities in development works carried out during the previous government. A proactive approach is suggested for him.
Razia Sultana: The only time she made news was for a helicopter ride to Amritsar for urgent meetings. Rumour has it that her PWD department is being run by proxy by her husband DGP, human rights commission, Mohammad Mustafa. She is a silent spectator in the assembly.
Sadhu Singh Dharamsot: He is the invisible minister in the cabinet. The only time he made news was when a video of him rebuking a school principal went viral, forcing the CM to preach humility to his ministers. He heads the department of Scheduled Caste welfare and is getting to know it through transfers and postings. He is yet to make his presence felt in the assembly.