Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal on Tuesday made an impassioned plea for reviving the state, which he said was in its “hour of maximum danger”. “Sometimes it’s embarrassing to see what we’ve led Punjab to,” said an emotional Badal, calling himself a “gunehgaar banda” (guilty).
“Individually and collectively, we are all responsible for bringing to shame Punjab and Punjabiyat,” he said.
Badal, who was speaking at the book launch of veteran journalist PPS Gill’s second book ‘Blood on the Green: Punjab’s Tryst with Terror’, in Chandigarh, recalled Gill’s article in which he’d written, “If Punjab lives, everybody lives; if Punjab dies, who lives?”
He pleaded, “We must pool all our resources of intellect and capital to give back to Punjab.” Quoting from former US president John F Kennedy’s inaugural speech, he said, “Punjab is in its hour of maximum danger.”
Badal reminded the gathering how Punjab had always managed to rise from the ashes, be it the invasion by Ahmed Shah Abdali or the havoc of Partition. “It built Chandigarh and the Bhakra dam 25 years after Partition,” he said, adding that it had, however, failed to rise after 1984 even after a succession of democratically elected governments.
The finance minister, known for his fondness for poetry, was at his eloquent best, as he described the fall of Punjab. He lamented that a state blessed with a garland of five rivers, had come to such a sorry pass. “Punjab di dharti sher jamdi si (This land used to birth lions),” he underlined the contrast with the present, adding he was saddened to see, “where we could have been and where we have landed.”
Earlier, in a scathing remark on the Punjab polity, he said the book reminded him “of how petty politics in Punjab was and is.”
Calling the book a celebration of good, old-fashioned journalism, Harish Khare, editor-in-chief of The Tribune and the guest of honour, said journalists are foot soldiers of history. “We must learn from history.”
Lakhwinder Singh Gill, an economist from Punjabi University, Patiala, who conducted the stage, rued that rural education and health infrastructure, which had collapsed during the turbulent times, were yet to be revived despite five successive governments completing their term.
Economist Sucha Singh Gill inserted a note of hope when he pointed out that the book is also a tribute to the resilience and unity of Punjabis in the face of dire communal provocation.
PPS Gill, the author, concluded the function by calling for an urgent revival of Punjab. “It’s a tangled web,” he said. “We must clear the administrative cobwebs, remove the trust deficit, vacuum-clean the criminalising institutions, and restore the social sector.” Saying it was a tall order, he wondered, “Will the present government bite the bullet?”
Blood on the Green
‘Blood on the Green: Punjab’s Tryst with Terror’ is a collection of anecdotes from Gill’s notes as a reporter covering Amritsar and Gurdaspur, the hotbed of militancy in the 1980s and ’90s, besides other assignments at home and abroad. Through these narratives, Gill brings to life both the political shenanigans and the tragedy of the common man in Punjab. The chapter ‘Killing Fields’ provides a chilling account of a young widow cradling a dead baby in her lap. The six-month-old had been shot in the heart by terrorists whom Gill calls “mercenaries”.
The book mentions how the then Punjab governor, SS Ray, had a thing for samosas that his wife Maya tried hard to contain. Gill says he got his fodder from his treasure trove of notebooks and news clippings that he’d fondly preserved. “In a reporter’s diary, there is so much that is off the record. A book was a good way to get it off my chest and repay my debt to the state,” says Gill.
Speaking at the sidelines of the function, Gill said, “If you look at Punjab as a theatre, nothing has changed except the dates. It’s the same political set-up, the same breed of politicians with the ‘I, me, myself and my family’ ideology. The factors that drove the youth to pick up the gun have only aggravated over time, and the AK-47 has been replaced by drugs. Punjab is precariously teetering on the edge of a precipice.”