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Punjab budget: Cong budget sells a different brand of ‘memorial politics’

The aspect of CM Captain Amarinder Singh’s “memorial politics” is different from that of the SAD-BJP regime that mostly had a ‘panthic’ (religious) tone.

punjab Updated: Mar 25, 2018 11:04 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Though work on the 14-acre memorial in Sector 42, Chandigarh, began in 1999, it remains incomplete due to shortage of funds. Successive governments, particularly of the SAD-BJP regime of 2007-17, never gave much attention to it.
Though work on the 14-acre memorial in Sector 42, Chandigarh, began in 1999, it remains incomplete due to shortage of funds. Successive governments, particularly of the SAD-BJP regime of 2007-17, never gave much attention to it.(HT File )

It’s quite a Congress budget, if one goes by what the party claims to stand for. That is, on the question of religious extremism and secularism. In the outlays announced by finance minister Manpreet Badal for Punjab on Saturday, Rs 2 crore was set aside for the memorial to Beant Singh, who was assassinated in 1995 when he was the chief minister in a Congress regime that dealt with Khalistani militancy with an iron hand.

This aspect of CM Captain Amarinder Singh’s “memorial politics” is different from that of the SAD-BJP regime that mostly had a ‘panthic’ (religious) tone. Though work on the 14-acre memorial in Sector 42, Chandigarh, began in 1999, it remains incomplete due to shortage of funds. Successive governments, particularly of the SAD-BJP regime of 2007-17, never gave much attention to it. The project is a joint venture of the state and the UT administration, and there have been issues over Punjab not depositing its share, as was reportedly acknowledged by Manpreet last year too.

The focus on Beant Singh is being seen in line with the CM’s hardline approach against Khalistani separatism. He had raised the issue of Sikhs abroad fuelling separatism, when Canadian prime minister and that country’s Sikh ministers visited Punjab. Also among the claimed achievements of the government is the cracking of an alleged Khalistani module behind a series of murders in the state over the past two years.

On the express political front, too, the move is being seen as an effort to bring Beant Singh’s family closer to the regime; his grandsons Ravneet Singh Bittu and Gurkirat Kotli, who are now MP and MLA, respectively, have been critical of Captain in the past. “Beant Singh was a Congress party General (Oho san Congress party dey jarnail),” said Manpreet in his budget speech.

Allocations for other memorials, too, are in line with focus on a larger bouquet of communities and sections while keeping Sikhism in focus.

These include Rs 1 crore for a memorial at Saragarhi in Ferozepur, underlining the CM’s love for the armed forces. In 1897, 21 Sikh soldiers as part of the British army had died fighting 10,000 raiders on in the North West Frontier Province. After Independence, this memorial was built in Ferozepur.

The government also announced Rs 38 crore for completion of memorials, their operation and maintenance, and for setting up a new one to the Jaito Morcha, the name given to the agitation for restoration to his throne of Maharaja Ripudaman Singh of Nabha, a Sikh princely state.

It announced to start two research chairs at Punjabi University in the names of Maharaja Agrasen and Maharana Partap. In the budget speech, the FM allocated Rs 7 crore to “document the role played by the Agrawal community in economic development of Punjab” and made an outlay of Rs 2 crore. The same allocation and outlay were done for Maharana Partap Chair.

While the CM let the FM do the talking, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal asked in the House, “Why funds for his (Beant Singh’s) memorial, and why no mention of funds for a memorial in Khuralgarh started by our government?” This memorial at Khuralgarh village near Hoshiarpur is to the saint Ravidass, considered guru by various Dalit communities.

It must here be noted that in the previous budget, too, the Congress government had scraped the Mukh Mantri Tirath Darshan Yatra scheme for pilgrimage started by the SAD-BJP regime. It was a pet project of the previous chief minister, Parkash Singh Badal, but Captain had said there were other important matters concerning the state than pilgrimages.

Showing intent to farmers

Besides memorials, by setting aside Rs 4,250 crore for crop loan waiver, the government also showed intent towards the farming community, which the SAD claims as its bedrock. “We will top up the scheme with more funds once we get all details of eligible farmers from banks,” said the FM, hoping to give away the entire waiver as per policy in the coming financial year. The Congress had promised to waive “entire” farm debt during its poll campaign, but on coming to power in March last, it said it would waive Rs 9,500 crore in debt, that is, Rs 2 lakh each for farmers owning only up to five acres. This dichotomy has been underlined by the opposition Aam Aadmi Party and SAD. But, in defence, the Congress has been saying that the SAD regime never even took a step towards farm debt waiver.