2004, its ramifications
The way events have shaped up in Punjab in the aftermath of the Agreements Termination Act, they are bound to have an impact not only on the future course of politics in the state and the region but also the entire nation.
Politically, the world over the year 2004 indeed has been an eventful one. The year, which ended on a tragic note with the death of over 1,50,000 people in South and South-East Asia by the worst-ever devastating tsunami, would perhaps go down in the annals of history as a year that shaped the destiny - good or bad - of the world.
On a larger perspective, events like re-election of George W. Bush as the President of the United States would influence the future of Iraq and the entire Arab world. It could also set the course of how the world finally decides to deal with issues like the scourge of terrorism, religious fundamentalism and peace. Needless to say his return to power would also have a consequential impact on the future of Indo-Pak relations, so vital to lasting peace in South Asia.
Similarly events like the death of PLO leader Yasser Arafat could well be the turning point in the bloody Israel-Palestine relations and pave the way for an independent Palestine state - a dream that Arafat could not fulfil in his lifetime.
And the exposure of Qadeer Khan, father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons development programme, in the illegal sale of technology may well lead to answers for dealing with the explosive threat of nuclear non-proliferation by irresponsible regimes.
In India, the year not only witnessed the unexpected return of Congress to power but also an unprecedented act of “sacrifice” by Sonia Gandhi who nominated Dr Manmohan Singh to the top executive post when no one could have denied her that slot. Her decision not only catapulted the otherwise bruised Congress to the centrestage of the country’s political arena but also stopped the juggernaut of the Hindutva brigade, which was riding high on its electoral victories in the 2003 September Assembly elections.
The decision has virtually changed the course of politics in the country and the BJP, which looked so invincible and ‘shinning’ till the beginning of the year, is searching for answers for its revival. However, the ascent of the Congress-ed UPA government at the Centre has raised the pertinent question of tainted politicians occupying ministerial berths and presiding over the fate of the country.
The ongoing public debate on this issue and the pending PIL in the apex court may finally have an impact on the increasing menace of criminalisation of politics.
Closer home in Punjab, while the advent of Dr Manmohan Singh in the Prime Minister's Office helped somewhat bridge the longstanding gap between the Sikhs and the Congress, Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh's radical decision to unilaterally abrogate water agreements with the neighbouring states created a nationwide controversy. Punjab Vidhan Sabha's decision to enact the Agreements Termination Act was widely criticised and it put the Congress central leadership in a piquant situation.
It also soured Amarinder's relation with the party's central leadership to some extent since he took the decision without taking either the Prime Minister or Sonia Gandhi in confidence. The UPA government reacted to the situation by making a Presidential Reference on the issue and the matter is still pending before the apex court.
Notwithstanding the controversies and the criticism generated by this radical decision, it proved a boon for the Congress in Punjab. The popularity of the party and particularly Amarinder witnessed a surge and overnight the Chief Minister became the torchbearer of the state's interest and a saviour of the farming community, which hitherto was a vote-bank of the Akalis.
Though ostensibly Punjab Governor Justice O.P. Verma paid a price for according assent to the controversial Agreements Bill with his pre-mature exit from the Raj Bhawan, the Congress reaped its benefit in the November byelections of Kapurthala and Garhshankar. The party’s impressive victories were indeed a shock for the Akalis, who were excepting to repeat their Lok Sabha performance. More than the defeat what sounded alarm bells for the Akalis was the Congress performance in the rural areas, their bastion.
The year-end electoral reverses for the Congress helped Amarinder politically consolidate his position, which had become vulnerable by the dismal Lok Sabha poll results, allegations of his family's involvement in a forex scam amidst some legal setbacks and the dissidence against him. The dissidence, which had reached its crescendo last year in December with Rajinder Kaur Bhattal spearheading the oust-Amarinder campaign in New Delhi, however, subsided to quite an extent during year with the Chief Minister and his Deputy (Bhattal) closing ranks, at least publicly, for now.
While Amarinder’s brand of unconventional politics did corner SAD supremo Parkash Singh Badal, the death of veteran Gurcharan Singh Tohra and the party's subsequent landslide victory in the SGPC elections saw the latter emerge as the tallest Akali leader in the state. Religious events like the 400th year of installation of Guru Granth Sahib and the tercentenary of the martyrdom of Sahibzadas provided ample opportunities to Badal to further consolidate his stronghold in the religious domain.
However, his decision to nominate Bibi Jagir Kaur, allegedly accused for the murder of her own daughter, as the SGPC chief defied probity and rightly attracted criticism. It also in a way exhibited the arrogance that seems to have seeped into his ways of functioning with his supremacy in the realm of both the religious and political affairs.
The way events have shaped up in Punjab in the aftermath of the Agreements Termination Act, they are bound to have an impact not only on the future course of politics in the state and the region but also the entire nation. With water sharing being a contentious issue between several states, the decision of the apex court on the Presidential Reference may well throw up a solution to resolving this perennial problem once and for all.