A policeman deployed every few kilometres; a cavalcade of cars and SUVs with the entire district administration in tow.
The sangat darshans of Bathinda MP Harsimrat Badal rival that of her father-in-law, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, both in terms of VIP movement and doles.
Sada Singhwala — one of the eight villages of Mansa she toured on Tuesday — descends on the venue to see the powerful Badal daughter-in-law, though the political clout she flaunts is more as the wife of deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal. Local MLA Prem Mittal, an OSD (officer on special duty), media adviser and the deputy commissioner (DC) are all in attendance. She asks the village elders allowed inside the security ring to list their two main demands. They have many more. She sanctions Rs 12 lakh for drains, road repair and a dharamshala. Education minister Sikander Singh Maluka is called up to ensure that the village school gets a principal and more teachers – there are just 11 for 401 students.Badals’ largesse
Harsimrat’s main poll pitch is getting Bathinda a lion’s share of development funds, something she says the chief minister asks her to avoid mentioning. While Badal himself has showered the largesse on home district Muktsar, the two other districts of the parliamentary constituency — Bathinda and Mansa — got a whopping Rs 3,295 crore from cash-starved Punjab departments in the last five years. The biggest chunk of Rs 679 crore came from the PWD (public works department) for roads and buildings; the water supply and sewerage board pumped in Rs 529 crore; Punjab Mandi Board Rs 244 crore; Tubewell Corporation Rs 215 crore; and Powercom Rs 196 crore. With two Badals competing on doles, Bathinda is not complaining. However, the assembly segments and villages that gave the Congress a lead in the 2012 polls now tell a different story.
Despite spending big on infrastructure, many villages of this predominantly rural constituency complain of poor sewerage, kutcha roads, no repair of water channels and schools not upgraded. Education and health have been low on priority. Harsimrat splurged a staggering Rs 3.5 crore out of her Rs 19 crore MPLAD funds in five years on dharamshalas in urban and rural areas, earmarking just Rs 29 lakh for education — rooms and computers in schools — and Rs 21 lakh on health. The promise of creating jobs for youth has also proved elusive. “She had promised to make Bathinda Paris, but during rains, the sewerage system collapses and it looks more like Venice. There are no new jobs, no teachers and no doctors. Bathinda looks like a poor cousin of Patna, not Paris,” says People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) president Manpreet Badal, a likely contender from Bathinda.
But even her staunch critics credit the firebrand MP for creating a niche in national politics by championing the cause of the girl child through the Nanhi Chhaan campaign and her no-holds-barred attacks on the Congress in Parliament and on television channels. More loud than articulate, Harsimrat has made her voice heard in House debates. But the VIP tag has also made Bathinda a hotbed of all anti-government protests and Harsimrat a target of political opponents for incidents not just in her constituency but also for crimes against women in the entire state. "She enjoys absolute power; both the police and bureaucracy are like slaves to the ruling family. But the most powerful MP of Punjab can be credited with least performance. The area has become the drug capital of Punjab and this cannot happen without political patronage. She functions from Delhi, 350 km from Bathinda, treating it like a shikargaah (hunting ground)," Manpreet adds.
In giving her a landslide win in 2009 against Raninder Singh, son of former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, Bathinda had high expectations from its MP. This time round, Harsimrat will be judged by whether she was able to meet them. “Being from the ruling family had its advantages. But it was also challenging, as the expectations are huge. I have visited each village of my constituency three times over in the last five years, something which even my father-in-law may not have done,” she claims.
And each time she bestows them grants, many expectations remain unmet. Her ready answer, “I will not make false promises. There will be no dearth of funds for meeting all your demands if you uproot the Congress regime in Delhi.”
Part 15 of 34,
ravneet singh Bittu, anandpur sahib