There is too much vociferation to oust SAD-BJP regime from power in Punjab, giving the impression as if the entire state is in the shackles of lawlessness and extreme backwardness, something which has no semblance of any justification at all. It is too early to say that people have made up their minds to capitulate before the opinion of leaders seeking redemption of the state from the ruling alliance. Self-orchestrated plaudits and pomp of opposition parties at the moment may not get them winning votes when the state goes to polls on February 4. Those seeking power by uprooting SAD-BJP regime seem to be of the view that voters will not like any dispensation to continue beyond 10 years in the state and hence there is no harm in launching a scathing attack on the current dispensation on one pretext or the other.
As of now, there is no indication that people are up in arms against the ruling alliance in the state, though traditional anti-incumbency factor is always there to upset the applecart of any party or political group which is in power for 10 years. It was unprecedented indeed when the SAD-BJP proved every political pundit wrong and retained power in 2012 Assembly polls. In the ensuing Assembly polls, opposition parties are using the weapons of rhetoric, hyperboles and vendetta vows more in their reply to developmental claims of SAD-BJP alliance. It can be seen that rival groups are armed with a set repertoire of arguments to convince voters against SAD-BJP, which they did in 2012 too, but in vain. These anti-incumbency propagandists are better organised this time in putting forth their views but they also run the risk of getting exposed in the final run.
Congress and AAP, both claiming to be close to forming next government, have failed to come out with a visionary roadmap for Punjab, which may take the state to next level of all round empowerment. They too have promised a phalanx of sops, which are already being offered in abundance to the people of the state. Banal and commonplace promises from all those who are in the fray have made the Assembly poll certainly a listless affair to a great extent and have also made the people’s task of choosing their legislators really difficult. The Congress, which came quite close to forming government in the last polls, is raising the issues which are almost similar to those raised by the party during the last elections.
Ever since the state was restructured in 1966, the Congress and Akalis have ruled the state for most of these years. Therefore, wherever Punjab stands today is the outcome of their model of governance. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while releasing Congress manifesto in New Delhi, said Punjab has tremendous potential, which needs to be exploited properly. He also spoke about the state’s fiscal situation, which, he said, has been ‘mismanaged’ in a manner which is ‘unprecedented.’ Punjab’s fiscal woes are quite old. In fact, the state has been under severe debt for several years and a major factor behind the state’s swelling debt is the Centre’s inability in restructuring the same, which the state incurred due to years of militancy.
AAP’s manifesto is also dotted with footpath-type promises. It has made the contest effectively three-cornered unlike Manpreet Singh Badal’s People’s Party of Punjab (PPP), which got some percentage of votes in the last Assembly polls and ended up upsetting the Congress applecart in at least over 14 seats. It remains to be seen how AAP leaders manage to shift all votes which get them power to their kitty, while SAD-BJP and Congress remain as passive onlookers, as the AAP managers think. If all this happens spontaneously as happened in Delhi and Bihar Assembly polls, then AAP certainly has a reason to smile. Similarly, the Congress will have to ensure that anti-incumbency votes do not get into the AAP kitty; otherwise India’s grand party may not clinch a decisive victory this time too.
Being in power for ten years, the SAD-BJP alliance leaders are faced with a gargantuan task to convince the people to give them another five-year to serve them. Apart from the development plank, they are heavily depending upon their traditional vote banks and fine-tuned cadre to ensure that there is minimal decrease in their vote percentage so that they win the battle again. They also need to ensure that their cadres manage booths well and take voters to polling stations. They are also hopeful that charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will help them a lot. Last but not the least, there is always an undercurrent for and against the candidates in the fray which factor significantly in people’s voting decision. Since most of the issues being talked about by all parties in the run-up to states’ elections are old and tried ones, local issues and candidates’ personal aura must not be discounted at all, while drawing any inference.
Punjab as a state is faced with multiple challenges. The real challenge, however, lies in dealing with the increasing perception that the state is financially not so sound to take care of burgeoning dues and debt. Equally important is the contribution of Central government in taking up projects so far as infrastructure upgradation is concerned. Punjab needs to address the increasing financial burden arising out of servicing the debts, mounting non-plan expenditure and shrinking revenue sources. No doubt the state government has been able to improve significantly so far as value added tax (VAT) collection is concerned. The increasing burden of subsidies is another area of concern. No one would like the government to withdraw subsidies being given to farmers in different forms. Providing basic amenities to all, improving infrastructure, implementation of administrative reforms in civil, police and industry sector for quick delivery of services are some of the areas where Punjab is already working hard, but the pace has to be increased.
(The writer is Senior Assistant Editor, Daily Post, Chandigarh)
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