ON TRACK NOW, BUT FAR FROM TARGET
‘We call this a blueprint of Punjab’s destiny. For convenience, the newspapers can call it a manifesto”, said Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal at Ludhiana on January 22 in 2012 while releasing his party’s manifesto for the assembly elections. The document, as his media spin-doctors put it rather bombastically, “unveils a stunning range of initiatives to completely revolutionise infrastructure, health, education, agriculture and employment generation sectors”.Updated: Mar 15, 2014 18:53 IST
‘We call this a blueprint of Punjab’s destiny. For convenience, the newspapers can call it a manifesto”, said Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal at Ludhiana on January 22 in 2012 while releasing his party’s manifesto for the assembly elections. The document, as his media spin-doctors put it rather bombastically, “unveils a stunning range of initiatives to completely revolutionise infrastructure, health, education, agriculture and employment generation sectors”.
Two years into its second term, the SAD-BJP government’s promises are still a long way short of its target. After a forgettable first year marked by lacklustre showing, the government finally pulled up its socks and has been seen to be on a roll in the last one year.
Notably, it went into an overdrive in hardselling Punjab through two back-to-back, high-powered shows on industry and agriculture.
Undoubtedly, the high point was the investment summit that attracted the who’s who of India Inc and investment proposals worth Rs 60,000 crore. Fronted by Sukhbir, this ground-breaking initiative alone could well turn out to be a game-changer for the state long plagued with a languishing industry and a faltering economy growing at 4.7%.
With a genius for aggressively marketing his development agenda, deputy chief minister emerged as a perception manager par excellence.
But, perception can hardly be substitute for all parameters of governance as evident from the below par report card of most ministers.
It was a year in which the Badals stole the show — chief minister Parkash Singh Badal as a memorial-building moderate and Sukhbir as a corporate-style moderniser. Notwithstanding the bright spots, the government has a lot to do to match the much-hyped perception with not-so-rosy realities on the ground. Ramesh Vinayak, Senior Resident Editor.Back on the front foot
Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, 86, Arts graduate
Beginning his political yatra as a sarpanch, Badal is a fifth-term chief minister — a rare feat which Badal says is the result of “playing straight politics” and remaining “an obedient worker of the party”. He has been maintaining an iron grip over his coalition government. Also, his penchant for remaining in sync with the public is legendary; so is his appetite for keeping babus on toes and chairing yawn-inducing, low-yield meetings regularly.
The SAD in its manifesto had promised: “The Gurbani ideal of ‘Pavan Guru Paani Pita…’ will be our guiding philosophy.” To achieve this, the party vowed to create a separate environment ministry to be headed by a cabinet minister; cleaning all rivers and rivulets within two years; ban onn plastic and other such material; and introducing ecology as a compulsory subject in all schools. There was also a lofty promise of creating 10 lakh new jobs; increasing Shagun Scheme grant given at weddings of women from weaker section from Rs 15,000 to Rs 31,000 and also doubling the old age and widow pensions from Rs 250.
He was an effective crisis manager and never let any opportunity slip to put Congress on the back foot. He checkmated Congress when in Amritsar he laid the foundation of a war memorial at a ceremony attended by the likes of the Marshal of Air Force Arjan Singh and former chief of army staff General (Retd) JJ Singh. But major poll promises of his ‘Mission 2012-17’ remain unfulfilled.
Grants and pension have not been doubled, and it’s not on the agenda now, something the government sheepishly accepted in the Vidhan Sabha. As this could be his last stint as CM, Badal’s top priority has been erecting memorials of all kinds.
To give fillip to his crop-diversification plans, the government organised a four-day Progressive Punjab Agriculture Summit at the Baba Banda Singh Bahadur War MemMemorial near Mohali soon after an investors’ summit. Also, he shed his soft stance towards bureaucracy.
Congress stalwart Capt Amarinder Singh changed the course of political developments in Punjab when he questioned the role of CM Badal over the 1984 Operation Bluestar. Visibly on the backfoot, Badal had to launch a multipronged offensive to douse the embers, and dubbed it as “a pack of royal lies”. Score: 7. Last year score: 6
Deputy Chief Minister, Sukhbir Singh Badal 52, MBA
From a lustreless stint as two-time MP and union minister of state, the political graph of Sukhbir rose after he was appointed the SAD president and later deputy CM. He is the de-facto CM, heading home, power, excise and taxation, sports and governance reforms departments, and calling the shots in several others. He has used every trick to tame Akalis, woo the opposition and court thee media.
To spite Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa, he somewhat at mended fences with Bajwa’s preddecessor Capt Amarinder Singh. He has also adopted Gujarat CM Narendra Modi’s publicity stunts. He loves to make tall claims, manage each constituency to the last detail and keep all cards close to his chest. His best-created illusion: the CM is call-calling the shots!
Many promises — like lap-laptops for students and employment allowance— tweaked. He promised to prune VIP security and push “second generation” of governance reforms.
Laptops for students were downsised to tablet PCs, unemployment allowance changed to employability allowance only to those pursuing vocational courses — still, they haven’t been given. His talk of pruning VIP security was an exercise in cutting his political opponents, within his own party and Congress, to size. Pace of administrative reforms slowed down and there is long pendency in delivery of services. VAT collections have not been up to what he trumpeted, and the power plants are yet to make Punjab P “power surplus”. As part oof police reforms , he launched helpline number 181 with dedicated desks for women, children, senior citizens and NRIs, and a unique nnight patrolling scheme.
Emerged as showman pulling off a Progressive Punjab Investors’ Summit, like Modi’s Vibrant Gujarat, getting the who’s who of India Inc to attend.
His World Cup Kabbadi criticised for extravagance, and also for alleged involvement of money of drug dealers. His brother-in-law Bikram Majithia and handpicked DGP Sumedh Singh Saini, who is under the Election Commission’s scanner, have brought controversies. He was also in a credit war with another brother-in-law minister, Adesh Partap Kairon, over the Atta-Dal Scheme. Score: 6. Last year score: 5
Food and civil supplies; IT
Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, 55, BTech, MBA
As grandson of former Congress CM Partap Singh Kairon and son-in-law of CM Parkash Singh Badal, his clout within the SAD and government was second only to his brotherin-law, deputy CM Sukhbir Badal. That was dented after he barely scraped through from Patti in the 2012 assembly polls, but he is firmly in the saddle in the “most lucrative” department — food and civil supplies. His style is about working behind the scenes to avoid publicity, both good and bad.
He maintains good relations at Delhi with union ministries that matter. He has loyalists in top positions in his department to “feed” desirable news to the media. Not one to let anyone else walk away with credit for his work, his open assertiveness against Sukhbir and Majithia hints at trouble in the clan.
Adding punch to the poll-winning Atta-Dal Scheme by including new beneficiaries and providing wheat at 1 per kg. Promised to link food and kero-kero sene subsidy with Aadhaar cards.
Under new Has taken the fizz out of the Centre’s food security scheme by merging it with Atta-Dal Scheme. Linkages to Aadhar remains a promise. Online payment by Pungrain to commission agents (arhtiyas) is a win-win for his department as well as the agents. Gains from computerisation of procurement have been a well-guarded secret!
Turning Centre’s food scheme into a “new” Atta-Dal Scheme.
Rise of Sukhbir’s other brother-inlaw, Majithia, is raising hackles of Kairon who questioned the PR minister’s move of bestowing status of minister and CPS on media advisers. He also put a spanner in the move of Sukhbir to steal credit for the new Atta-Dal Scheme and its “politicisation” by allowing Akali jathedars, councillors and ward incharges to pick and choose beneficiaries to roll out the scheme before the poll code of conduct. Score: 4. Last year score: 6
Show me the money!
Parminder Singh Dhindsa, 40, MBA
Ayoung gun of the SAD, Dhindsa is a low-key politician, willingly playing second fiddle to Sukhbir. Unassuming, he is increasingly careful in selection of words in private or at public platforms. He is termed suave and sophisticated too, and is seen as a perfect choice for the critical finance portfolio after the Badals burnt their fingers with Manpreet Badal, who left just before the end of the last term and formed his own party after much noise.
Pulling Punjab out of its pale fiscal health. The committed expenditure has been on the rise steadily, keeping the state on the brink of bankruptcy. The challenge has been bringing down revenue as well as fiscal deficit, and putting in place a broad-based tax structure, besides generating more revenue.
Dhindsa has brought about synergy between the populist pitch of the Badals and the state finances. On a bumpyy path, he never allowed any ticklishh fiscal situation to snowball into a crisis and raised substantial revenue through different means to meet the targets of rising salaryy bill. But, as per his own admission, lots of things were decided to improve resource mobilisation and then withdrawn because of political compulsions.
Administrative steps to contain tax evasion which, as per the finance minister, is 20-30%.%.
Was on sticky wicket when government was struggling to release salaries. There was also perception that the government was selling ‘family silver’ for day-to-day finance. He was at pains explaining that money generated from selling government properties would be used for capital expenditure, not running expenses. Score: 4. Last year score: 3
Sikander Singh Maluka, 64, Class 10
A loyalist of Sukhbir, Maluka is a troubleshooter in Bathinda – constituency of Badal bahu Harsimrat Badal – as district SAD president and chairman of the planning board. He also enjoys clout within SAD as a core committee member.
SAD promised free education for girls till graduation; free laptops with internet data card for Class-11 and -12 students, and bicycles for girls of Classes 9 to 12.
No laptops or even tablet PCs yet. Promise of bicycles to girls was tweaked and only those in Classes 11 and 12 get them. Many vacancies not filled; teachers agitating. On the bright side, though he had termed centrallysponsored schemes as “ill-conceived”, Punjab bagged second position in implementing the midday programme in India. The state also focused on bringing back out-of-school children. But more than his performance, con-troversies made Maluka a much-talked about minister.
Mired in scam in purchase of books and other school equipme
Maluka remained in the thick of controversy – over purchase of library books and science kits, and later illegal appointments of physical training instructors. The report of the CM-ordered probe into these scams remains undisclosed. The minister also faced embarrassment for his driver facing inquiry for an imposter appearing in his place in Class 10 exams.
He was also at loggerheads with IAS officer KS Pannu, who was removed as the director general of school education (DGSE), so much so, that an attack on Pannu while he was monitoring flood relief operations in Uttarakhand brought Maluka under the scanner. Score: 4. Last year score: 7
No focus on improvement
Rural development and panchayats
Surjit Singh Rakhra, 61, Graduate
A businessman whose family owned gas stations in the US, Rakhra struck gold in politics after being elected MLA in 2002 from Samana. He became a cabinet minister after handing a crushing defeat to former Punjab CM Amarinder Singh’s son Raninder Singh at Samana in 2012. Close to CM Badal, Rakhra keep as low profile – inside the assembly and in cabinet meetings
To strengthen rural water supply with World Bank-sponsored projects; giving toilets to village dwellings; and allotment of 5-marla plots to poor Scheduled Caste families.
Plans to cover all villages under potable water supply system remains in the pipeline. Implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has been patchy.
He remained a spectator over the controversy of grabbing of panchayat lands by powerful politicians and bureaucrats. Panchayat elections held under his watch were marred with controversies and violence. Score: 4. Last year score: 4
Still making headlines
Revenue; Info and public relations
Bikram Singh Majithia, 38, Graduate
The most powerful cabinet minister after the Badals, he is a rising frontline leader of the SAD. While keeping a relatively low profile and avoiding controversies that otherwise keep chasing him, Bikram remained the crisis manager for his brother-in-law Sukhbir Singh Badal too. The Majha chieftain has often come under flak from SAD patriarch and CM Badal. But he is feared by the opposition at least inside the assembly. Across the state, Majithia is often dogged by misdeeds of his Youth Akali Dal brigade.
Curbing corruption in the revenue department was the main promise, while as information and PR minister he was to gear up the publicity wing of the government for new challenges in ensuring positive publicity after SAD-BJP’s second coming.
His graph as minister saw encouraging upswing as the profile-raising, high-stakes events of the government were held without glitches and received good publicity. The NRI Sammelan was a success, while he pushed for some defining reforms in the revenue department to ward off corruption chances. As revenue minister, he acted against corrupt officials, sending a clear message: shape up or be shipped out.
To spruce up the image of the SAD-BJP, he spearheaded the move to hire two multinational PR companies at a hefty cost. To reach out to NRIs, the minister took a series of steps such as special police stations.
After that infamous and abusive war of words inside the Vidhan Sabha with Congress MLA Rana Gurjit Singh, Majithia is finding himself named in the recently busted drug cartel. His brush with controversy is a never-ending saga. And his personality makes it worse for him. Score; 5. Last year score: 4
Ajit Singh Kohar, 73, under middle
An old warhorse of the SAD, Kohar is a Badal loyalist. Considered “a harmless politician” from Doaba, he literally keeps to himself, while his department is actually run by Sukhbir, who has strong personal stakes in the sector.
SAD promised all major cities and towns would have “highly modern and fully air-conditioned” bus stands. Besides, all government buses will be AC. The challenge was to pull out the state-run transport companies out of the red.
Despite being a senior, Kohar has been unable to make his presence felt. His department is run by officials who take orders from the deputy CM.
Made tall promises to curb road accidents, but not much heard about any moves.
He has kept controversies at bay. In his previous term, as revenue minister (2007-2012), allegations of corruption used to crop up against Kohar. He was even booked during Congress regime but acquitted. Score: 3. Last year score: 3
Jails; Tourism and cultural affairs
Sarwan Singh Phillaur, 66, Arts graduate
Yet another old warhorse and CM Badal’s loyalist, he has contested seven assembly polls since 1977 and won six of them. Humble and non-aggressive, enjoying strong connect with public, he is spared attacks even by the opposition Congress.
To improve jail infrastructure; treatment of prisoners as per UN convention; and making Punjab a hub of religious tourism.
Tall claims of new jails in Amritsar, Muktsar and Bathinda remain at the planning stage. After public outcry over “vulgar” lyrics of Punjabi songs, he promised a new policy to check it. Nothing happened.
Several bloody fights in jails; and recovery of mobile phones from inmates who even updated their Facebook status from inside the jails!
Name of Phillaur’s son, Damanvir Singh, cropped up in thye multi-crore drug scandal in the statements of arrested accused Jagdish Bhola. Score: 2. last year score: 3
Industries and commerce
Madan Mohan Mittal, 75, Law graduate
Known for his proximity to CM Badal even more than that with senior leaders of his party, the BJP, Mittal played a key role in the alliance in the mid-1990s. A three-time MLA, he bagged important government departments, thanks to the CM. Brash and arrogant, he likes to wield the stick on officers who do not do his bidding.
Within his department, he is seen as implementing divide-and-rule, while his party colleagues feel he does not support BJP ideology and humours the SAD top brass.
A new policy for attracting big-ticket investment, skill development centres, putting an end to inspector raj, and a special package for promotion of industry in Jalandhar, Amritsar, Mandi Gobindgarh and Batala.
His handling of health department, before he was shifted, was one of the triggers for reshuffling of portfolios of BJP ministers midway last year. As parliamentary affairs minister, he comes to rescue of the government with his rather preposterous arguments to demolish opposition attack. However, as industries minister, he remains a non-entity. At the Progressive Punjab summit, Mittal was pushed to the fringes and Sukhbir hogged the limelight.
Portfolios of BJP ministers were reshuffled in September. Before that, Mittal as health minister had department officers the wrong way, locked horns with party-mate CPS Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu and ordered mass transfers of over 550 doctors. The cancer relief fund was not implemented. Score: 3. Last year score: 2
First Published: Mar 15, 2014 18:21 IST