A political tug-of-war is now playing out within the ruling Badal family before the parliamentary elections over the "poll-winning" food scheme. While the Punjab government has almost hijacked the UPA's National Food Security Act by merging it with its own atta-dal scheme, within the ruling family, the scheme has been hijacked by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal from brother-in-law, state food and civil supplies minister Adaish Partap Singh Kairon.
Sukhbir has been pulling all the strings -- he is heading a cabinet sub-committee to implement it and holding meetings with the district administration -- leaving an unhappy Kairon to drag his feet on its roll-out till the poll code kicks in.
The Sukhbir-Kairon tussle is not just over the former stealing the latter's thunder but also the scheme's "blatant politicisation" ahead of polls. An overwhelming 25 lakh families of the state have applied for blue cards under the new scheme while there is a room for just 14 lakh more. To "prune" the numbers and roll out the scheme before the poll code, the lists of eligible households have been handed over to Akali jathedars, activists and sarpanches to choose "true-blue" poor in their areas.
This too has raised the hackles of Kairon, who fears he and his department would be held liable for all lapses in the central scheme's execution. Under the National Food Security Act, nearly 32 lakh families of Punjab have to be covered, comprising 54% rural and 44% urban population. Since the number of blue-card holders under the old atta-dal scheme along with the below poverty line (BPL) and poorest of poor Antyodya Anna Yojana (AAY) families totals up to nearly 18 lakh, only 14 lakh more households can be covered under the new scheme.
In an obvious poll hurry, SAD president Sukhbir Badal set a deadline of February 15 for rolling out the new atta-dal scheme at a recent meeting in Ludhiana. Interestingly, while the notice for the meeting asked the ministers concerned to be present, Kairon was conspicuous by his absence.
Though the official lists of those found eligible after verification and inviting of objections have yet to be declared by the deputy commissioners in many districts, titled "Parwan karan jog filaan" (eligible files) they are available with Akali leaders, workers and depot-holders affiliated to the ruling party with names of party loyalists tick-marked. The Punjab food and civil supplies department, however, attributes the delay to logistics.
"The identification of beneficiaries has not yet been completed. We are everyday giving directions to the districts to compile the final lists but some have still to do so. Also, we want to provide wheat in plastic bags for which the department will soon invite tenders so that they can be filled at godowns for delivery to ration depots," director Satwant Singh Johal said.
It is not just Kairon who is opposing a hurried roll-out. Some ministers and MLAs of the ruling SAD-BJP alliance have also sounded the government that resentment over inclusion and exclusion of families can hurt the party's poll prospects.