In February, 2022, the people of Punjab overwhelmingly voted for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) during the State legislature elections and the party formed the government. The AAP, in its election campaign, had promised a large number of freebies, the main being free electricity, Rs.1000 per month to all females of Punjab above the age of 18, free healthcare etc. It also promised eradication of the drug menace and enhanced government jobs for the youth. To meet the expenses, it spoke of generating vast sums of money through honest governance and government owned resources like the sand mining sector from where, it claimed, that it would earn upwards to INR 20K crore annually.
Now, almost a year and a half down the line the AAP led government of Punjab is in a dismal situation. The promised resurrection is nowhere in sight.
At the outset there were a lot of law and order issues marked by the killing of a popular Punjabi folk singer, Sidhu Moosewala, and some prominent sportsmen, politicians etc. A maverick, Amritpal Singh, took on the mantle of radicalism and freely instigated the majority Sikh community towards separatism. He was given a free hand for eight long months before an attempt was made to arrest him, due to extreme outcry by the people against his activities. The operation to arrest Amritpal Singh was severely botched up, but ultimately he was caught. By then, the damage to the credibility of the government in the area of law enforcement was done and the distrust in its ability continues.
The government has been unable to generate funds from sand mining and the other conduits that it was depending upon and, as such, it is now facing a huge financial challenge. Under pressure to perform, it partially met the free electricity promise which has caused a huge dent on its already fragile fiscal condition. As a result, it has added upwards of INR 50k crore to the debt burden of the already debt-ridden state economy and propelled it irretrievably towards a debt trap.
In the health sector, the government has attempted to replicate the model of Mohalla Clinics that forms a flagship publicity gimmick of the AAP government in Delhi. The centre has, very rightly, declined release of funds for the centrally funded Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Centres (AB-HWCs) since the AAP led Punjab government was rebranding the same as AAM Aadmi Clinics which is against government norms. The result is a complete decimation of the vibrant Primary Health Centres (PHC) and the excellent government hospitals in Punjab.
The Punjab government remains constantly in conflict with the Union government and the Governor of the state in order to play the victim card for electoral gains. This policy is likely to gain momentum in coming times as the parliamentary elections approach. Ultimately, the people of Punjab are losing out due to this politically motivated policy. The sectors of rural development, health and education are the worst hit.
Any good advice given by the opposition is brushed aside by the government with utmost arrogance and disdain. The chief minister, Bhagwant Mann, exhibits no social and political finesse in his statements and is being branded as a crude and immature politician. His rough and unsophisticated utterances are good for a comedy show but, when spoken as a chief minister, they severely damage the image of Punjab within the country and worldwide.
AAP government has made Punjab a stepping stone for realising the political aspirations of the party convenor, Arvind Kejriwal. The already meagre resources of the state are being squandered in advertisements and administrative requirements of the campaign launched by the party to pursue its national ambitions. Many policies which do not suit Punjab, are being implemented only to project across India what is termed as the “Kejriwal Model.” This is causing a huge setback to the economic health of the state
The aforementioned and many other social/administrative and political issues have created a gloomy situation in Punjab. If things continue in this manner, the state will face irretrievable socio-economic damage. Sadly, in view of the large majority that the party enjoys, there is no option except to challenge the policies of the government and control the damage as much as possible.
With political parties like the Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) indulging in outright self-serving politics, the mantle of challenging the debilitating policies of the incumbent government falls squarely on the shoulders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Punjab unit. It is so because the BJP always keeps the nation first and will do all it can to ensure that Punjab remains strong and vibrant despite the fallacies of the government.
The BJP has, for long, remained a junior partner to the SAD in Punjab. It used to contest a mere 23 Vidhan Sabha seats while SAD took for itself the major chunk of 94 seats. The break-up of the alliance as a consequence of the duplicity and betrayal of the SAD during the farm agitation gave BJP an opportunity to create for itself a Pan-Punjab presence.
Resurgent BJP in Punjab
The BJP has carried out dynamic structural and organisational changes to fructify the expansion required for a Pan-Punjab presence. Many traditional leaders of Punjab from all age groups, who are committed to the cause of the nation and Punjab, have joined the party; they have been welcomed with open arms and have integrated well into the party ideology and working style. They are now engaged vigorously in the Party’s social and political outreach.
The opposition is always looking for opportunities to spread misinformation that would harm the BJP. Lies and half truths are fed to the media about BJP seeking alliance or planning to crush the incumbent government. It is done with the intention of spreading dissension and mistrust within the party cadre and in the minds of the people. The objective is to break the momentum of the party.
The silver lining is that the party cadre remains undeterred and is forging ahead with honesty, hard work and dedication. BJP Punjab, is poised to play the role of a responsible opposition. The Union government is committed to support its cadre and ensure that all suggestions and recommendations for the improvement of Punjab are implemented with utmost sincerity and alacrity.
Punjab is a sensitive border state and the Union government looks towards it through a national prism that goes beyond politics. The Union government is bound to keep an “Eagle’s Eye” on the state where, for reasons of national security, the situation cannot be allowed to deteriorate beyond a point.
Punjabis are one of the most affluent and rich communities in the world, yet, their homeland has remained afflicted with successive governments that epitomise inefficiency and corruption. This is quite unfathomable and an anathema. The biggest role in the resurrection of Punjab is to be played by Punjabis living within and outside the state. They have to rise above personal and partisan interests and take decisions that are beneficial for their homeland.
Punjab has witnessed decades of misgovernance under successive regimes. Sadly, the misgovernance has peaked under the present government . The state today needs a strong dynamic, vibrant, honest and committed leadership that works with a single-minded purpose of impelling the region out of the quagmire that it has landed in. Resurrection of the region is possible only if all stakeholders join hands and work with dedication towards attaining the objective at hand.
(Jaibans Singh is a military veteran, author and social worker)