2017 Poll Issues Dominate the Punjab Campaign Narrative for 2022
Punjab is rumbling forward towards the Assembly elections, with the farmers stir dominating. However, there is a sense of a deja vu as all the issues that influenced the 2017 state polls have returned to consume the poll narrative yet again.
Drugs, sacrilege of religious scriptures, the farm crisis, ‘anti people’ power purchase agreements along with the cable, transport and sand mining mafias operating with impunity in the state are back again as the primary issues for the 2022 polls campaign.
Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has flagged these issues at a two day special session of the Punjab assembly, maintaining that his government is in 'action mode'.
“Both Channi and the Congress president along with the ministers have been successful in conveying that they are working to address these issues. They have the advantage of saying to the people that they had always wanted to raise the issues with their government and address the concerns but it was their earlier Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh who was not keen on taking any action and was hand in glove with the Badals (Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal) who had run the previous regime,” said Vijay Bombeli, a well known political analyst in Punjab.
But while the political parties exchanged sharp words during the Assembly session, the impact on the voters remains to be seen.
“The people are sick and tired. They have understood that nobody cares for their concerns. They feel sad and helpless as no one is ready to take up their cases whether it is the Police or the politicians or others,” Shashikant, a former Director General of Police (DGP) who had worked to expose the drug mafia operating in Punjab, told The Citizen.
“Have you ever seen a politician mortgaging his property to fight elections? Where does the money come from? Nobody uses white money for political activities," he said.
A few months after coming into power Amrinder Singh had announced his decision to recommend the death penalty for drug pedaling and smuggling. The announcement followed more than 20 reported deaths of drug overdose with women reportedly coming out in public to allege a police-drug mafia nexus. On Thursday the new chief minister assured the people of Punjab, yet again, that he would leave no stone unturned to break the backbone of drug mafia and none would be allowed to go scot free.
“Things have come to a pass where people do not have confidence in any of the political parties. They support individuals who show some sort of promise to raise their concerns. Presently the manner in which Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu was instrumental in the ouster of Amarinder Singh, and the posturing of Channi seems to be finding some favour with them. The Akalis have failed to revive despite having sacrificed their alliance with the BJP . Meanwhile the Aam Aadmi Party continues to lag behind,” Professor Manjeet Singh, sociologist, said.
AAP MLAs switching over to the Congress and openly appreciating Channi over the last few days might prove to be a political weathercock.
In a bid to address the concerns on sand mining, the Channi government has recently announced a sand and gravel mining policy to provide sand and gravel to the public at large at minimum affordable rates.
Similarly, Punjab’s transport minister Amarinder Singh Raja Warring has claimed that the daily income of the department has started increasing by more than Rs. 1 crore after a crackdown on the transport mafia for evading taxes, operating buses without permits and indulging in other illegal activities.
“The ten year rule of SAD-BJP and four and a half years of Captain Amarinder Singh’s compromised government allowed the sheer loot of the state exchequer and the amount of these 5220-days would be around Rs 5,200 crore,” he claimed.
The politicians have been accused of extending bus routes and enhancing operational timings of private operators at the cost of the public transport. Politicians are also known to have their fleet of private buses.
Channi has announced that his government would soon get all the cases of corruption and malpractices including the contentious Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) during the SAD-BJP government tenure, probed by the vigilance department.
He also reiterated his government’s supposed commitment to bring all the culprits involved in the sacrilege cases to book, and insisted that the ongoing investigations would be brought to the logical end.
The Akalis have been alleging that the state police are being pressured into implicating their leaders in both the sacrilege and police firing cases of 2015.
Party president Sukhbir Badal said in Phagwara last week that the Congress party continues to play politics on the sensitive issue of sacrilege due to which the culprits are still at large and have not been convicted.
“It is a matter of sorrow for us that we could not deliver justice on this issue. I apologized to the Sikh Sangat earlier. I apologize even now. But this happened because the Congress party had put pressure on us to hand over the probe into the sacrilege case to the CBI. However after a change in government, the State moved the court to take back the matter from the CBI resulting in an inordinate wait for justice in the case,” he alleged.