In a campaign filled with much din, little substance and a lot of mudslinging, issues came to the fore as Hindustan Times took its special initiative, CANDIDateTalk@HT, to Ludhiana on Wednesday. The top three candidates — Congress’ Ravneet Singh Bittu, Shiromani Akali Dal’s Manpreet Singh Ayali and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Harvinder Singh Phoolka — spelled out their agenda for the city and Punjab at large as they came together for an interactive session.
Independent candidate Simarjit Singh Bains was invited, too, but did not eventually attend.
Four prominent citizens of the city were there too: Sachit Jain, president of the Ludhiana Management Association (LMA) and also vice-president of Vardhman Group; former vice- chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) Dr MS Kang; noted kidney care specialist Dr Navdeep Khaira; and leading Ayurveda practitioner and columnist Dr Ravindra Vatsyayan.
LAYING IT OUT
Upfront, Dakha MLA Ayali listed out a host of initiatives he had taken, rising through the ranks from a panchayat member to a sitting MLA and now an MP candidate. On plans, he listed out connectivity. “Industrialists should not have to go to the metro cities for meetings.
Clients should be able to come here.” His priorities also included cleaning the Buddha Nullah by having treatment plants at the source of industrial waste and also more water from the Sutlej for dilution. He promised five 200bed government hospitals and a large “central hospital”, and sought a Kendriya Vidyalaya for better education facilities.
Lawyer- activist Phoolka, known for fighting cases of 1984 riots’ victims, said, “I have three main areas of focus in my politics: Education, health and community farming.” Citing his past as a government school student, he said, “In our time, generally good students used to get admissions in professional courses.
Now entrance exams are based on specifics that require particular training… it’s a racket! Our (Gian Sewa) Trust has centres in government schools in Punjab where we have teachers from Delhi holding classes. The idea is to uplift the standard of government-sector education, and fortunately that is a top agenda of our party too.”
Drug abuse was his next concern. “During the SGPC ( Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee) elections, candidates distributed drugs; it cannot get worse than that!” He also cited his campaign during the 2012 assembly elections when he was not with any party.
“Our survey in deaddiction centres showed most youngsters got their first taste of drugs through free distribution during the elections.”
Explaining community farming, citing examples of his work in Ferozepur and Moga, Phoolka said, “We have constituted committees of farmers, mostly vegetable growers, who then manage to get seeds and other means on concessional rates. Then they process their produce into pickles, murabba and squashes. I will replicate that here.”
In Ludhiana, “Closure of large units is a problem, while small traders have their own set of problems. But lack of development is a common issue. The labour class lives in deplorable conditions. The most unfortunate part is that our political leadership believes that elections can be won by money and drugs.”
Anandpur Sahib MP Bittu, who is contesting in his native district after sitting MP Manish Tewari opted out, listed health as a priority and cited his work in his constituency where he has got a cancer hospital project started.
On drugs, he took a cue from his AAP opponent: “What’s the point of talking about development when we are doing very little to save our future generations from drug abuse?” He said that in 2011 he had succeeded in convincing chief minister Parkash Singh Badal to constitute a board to curb drug use, but that had not got going. Ayali interjected with: “Boards alone cannot help.
We need to rehabilitate addicts.” Bittu said, “I want long-term rehab centres that have skilldevelopment training.”
He also cited the recent “twohour shootout” at Sarabha Nagar between two groups, reported to be Youth Akali Dal factions, as a shameful incident showing the state of law and order in Punjab.
Industrialist Sachit Jain, vicepresident of Ludhiana’s homegrown textile major Vardhman, said, “Promises are made every five years... I hope these are implemented.” He said the city had produced only a handful of big companies, “We need a good management institute here.
Second, certain policies need to be changed for more job-creation.” He specified rules that bar sick units from closing down: “And we are not able to control indiscipline due to stringent labour laws.” He cited how the garment industry was going to Bangladesh and other countries.
Dr Khaira made a point about mega-expensive campaigns. “Also, when there are so many criminals getting tickets, how can we hope for promises to be fulfilled?” He sought sops for small businesses, rather than doles just to mega projects: “For instance, why is no free land given for nursing homes for social work?”
He cited the example of a business school in Mohali: “Why have 70 acres been given for low rent when the chief executives that form the board of the institute together earn at least Rs 1,000 crore a year as salary? People should have a say in how the money is spent.” He also called for better planning — rainwater harvesting, short-term recarpeting of roads that lower the houses’ level — and “people should be able to check and participate”.
On health, he said there was big racket: “A poor man cannot afford to have a sore throat!” He called for retaining sops to young doctors: “Young MBBS students used to get reserved MD seats after three years of rural service. That’s now six years. Why change that? No one cares about these issues.”
PAU’s ex-V-C Dr Kang listed population as the root of all problems, to which no party has been committing anything. The candidates agreed with him, discussing some sociological aspects, but that was that.