Why are ruling Cong MLAs unhappy in Punjab? No clout like Akalis, red beacons gone too
When Surjit Dhiman on said drugs are still freely available — defying CM‘s claim that his government has “broken the backbone of drug mafia” in Punjab — it was symptomatic of a bigger disenchantment in the rank and file of the party that returned to power after 10 years.punjab Updated: Aug 01, 2017 22:54 IST
Unlike many MLAs, Congress MLA from Amargarh, Surjit Dhiman, is not in the race for a cabinet berth. So, when he, on Monday, said that drugs are still freely available — defying chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s claim that his government has “broken the backbone of drug mafia” in Punjab — it was symptomatic of a bigger disenchantment in the rank and file of the party that returned to power after 10 years.
Though Dhiman retracted from his statement late Tuesday evening, many Congress MLAs feel the CM is “losing touch with the ground reality”. The tag of inaccessibility that Amarinder had shed by being on his toes for two years before elections has returned.
Unlike former CM Parkash Singh Badal who frequently toured the state, Amarinder has not ventured beyond Patiala — barring the visit to a killed soldier’s family in Tarn Taran after taking oath as CM in March. The practice of the him meeting MLAs in groups was started but soon seen unnecessary.
“Despite loan waivers and no red beacons, we are still hunting for goodwill. Both the government and the party need to find out why.”
Not only have the red beacons gone, Congress MLAs are also not enjoying any clout in police stations, DC and tehsil offices like the Akalis did.The voices of discontent did reach the CM. Going against protocol, he invited state party chief Sunil Jakhar to a meeting with administrative secretaries and deputy commissioners in June and asked them to give MLAs “due respect and break the ice over a cup of tea”.
Party sources said to keep MLAs in good humour, they are being heard on postings and transfers of lower-rung officers with Amarinder’s key aide, MP Singh, calling them to know their “demands”. Though the CM cites no political interference as the hallmark of his government.
Some Congress MLAs have also been allowed personal favours. Yet, the feeling of being “left-out” among party MLAs and workers remains.
Political leadership versus officers
It was again visible when state party chief Sunil Jakhar told workers at a conference at Chandigarh last week, “You will be made to feel it is your party that is in power.” Jakhar contends that the party worker is feeling harassed at government offices at every level. “The CM has given officers a free hand. But they must shun arrogance, apathy and corruption,” he says.
Jakhar is not the only one among the top Congress leadership who is taking on the bureaucracy. Left to fend for the party’s lofty poll promises with a near-empty treasury, finance minister Manpreet Badal has blamed the state’s bureaucracy for allowing the “rape of Punjab”. Local government minister Navjot Sidhu has charge-sheeted three IAS officers for allowing municipal works running into Rs 500 crore on single bids during the previous regime. It may widen the rift between the executive and political wings of the government.
A party MLA, requesting anonymity, said, “Many of those close to Akalis have been appointed legal officers while from Congress, only those who have access to the CM and his coterie have found a place. Officers who were close to Badals are again calling the shots. Nothing has changed for us.”
Business interests, old political rivalries
Like Akalis, Congressmen too want their pound of flesh in all that’s under state control — from truck unions to contracts for mid-day meal schemes. The government move to ban truck unions and illegal buses too has angered small-time politicians who say the powerful clique within the party have grabbed sand mines, liquor and other contracts.
A senior party leader said workers are also confused by ‘the many contradictions’.
“The CM is taking a no vendetta line against Badals, while Sidhu has launched a tirade against Fastway. The austerity pitch and fat pays to advisers is equally contradictory. Despite loan waivers and no red beacons, we are still hunting for goodwill. Both the government and the party need to find out why,” he added, requesting anonymity.