By Jaideep Sarin
Returning to power after a long gap of 10 years and bearing the political burden of the populist promises made in the run-up to assembly polls in Punjab earlier this year, the Congress, and particularly Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, must be feeling the pressure from within and outside.
With the new government completing six months in office on Sep 16, the political honeymoon is over and he has to now deliver on the big promises the party made.
If Amarinder and the coterie around him are to be believed, it was a Herculean task to clear the “fincial and administrative mess” allegedly left behind by the 10-year (2007-2017) rule of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Jata Party (BJP).
Having said that, Amarinder and his ministers and officers have to now unveil the roadmap of taking the fincially-beleaguered state forward and not just harp on the past mess.
Be it the promised waiver to Punjab’s debt-ridden farmers, employment to one person in every household (there are over five million households in Punjab), eradicating drugs from the state, ending corruption, smartphones for youth or several other promises made, the Congress government has an uphill task.
The much-hyped loan-waiver has hardly brought any cheer.
The present scerio in the state is hardly positive. Salaries of government staff were delayed recently as there was no money to pay them. Not much help is expected from the BJP-led central government. Investment from industrial houses and big corporates has largely remained mere announcements. Development projects are delayed or held up for want of funds. Unemployment continues to haunt the youth and the government.
Even though Amarinder Singh rode to power with an overwhelming majority of 77 seats in the 117-member assembly, the goodwill around him could soon evaporate if concrete decisions are not implemented.
In the last six months, his government has been dogged by a few controversies like the multi-crore mining scam involving aides of Power and Irrigation Minister Ra Gurjit Singh, rising farmer suicides and questions being raised on the claim that drugs have been eradicated from the state.
No action is being initiated against the drugs, mining and cable mafia as promised before the assembly elections. Besides, a huge team of advisers has been hired on fat salaries (even higher than what ministers get) despite the state’s fincial constraints.
The opposition is hardly impressed with the Amarinder government’s six months in office.
“Farmers, youth, dalits, businessmen, students, ex-servicemen, urban people — all are feeling betrayed by the present government. Farmers are the worst hit and their rate of suicides is shooting up exponentially every month,” Punjab BJP Secretary Vineet Joshi said.
“Youth are still waiting for their smartphones. Women are waiting for atta-dal along with ghee and tea. Veterans are awaiting pension. Developmental works in urban and rural areas have come to a halt owing to cancellation of sanctioned funds. Businessmen are still anticipating electricity at Rs 5 a unit,” Joshi added.
The BJP, to mark the Amarinder government’s six months in office, is planning to hold demonstrations across Punjab on September 16 to highlight its failures.
Within the Congress, there are murmurs among legislators about Amarinder being iccessible at times. Ever since his swearing-in on March 16, a number of senior legislators have been waiting for him to expand his cabinet so that they also get a shot at power.
One accusation against the Chief Minister is that he has not travelled across Punjab as he should have after coming to power. Amarinder, who hails from the erstwhile Patiala royal family, is currently away in London on a private visit to launch his book “Saragarhi and the Defence of the Sama Forts: The 36th Sikhs in the Tirah Campaign 1897-98”. (IANS)
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)