Armed with bevy of weapons, Opposition to attack bungling Amarinder govt
Having conducted itself like a complete novice, the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government in Punjab is all set to come under heavy fire from the Opposition when the Budget Session of the Assembly starts on Wednesday.
Opposition parties like the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are set to corner the government for its inept handling of situations, as well as landing itself in one controversy after another. Amarinder's government is also in a tight spot because of the tall poll promises made to the people.
Loan waiver issue
The issue expected to dominate the proceedings is the promise of a loan waiver, which the Congress had made in the run up to the recent Assembly elections. With the recent developments in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh adding to the building pressure from farmer organisations and the Opposition parties, the government will have to come out with something concrete soon.
A committee led by T Haque, former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, is working on the waiver plan, and is expected to meet representatives of farmer unions on 15 June.
CM Amarinder has been calling for the Centre's intervention on the issue, calling for a debt waiver in all states along with urgent steps to fix the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of crops in line with the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission.
He recently said that the key to resolving farmers' problems across India lay in the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report, which had recommended fixing the MSP for crops at levels 'at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production'. The commission said this would help enhance profitability in agriculture, by ensuring a minimum 50% profits over the cost of production.
Pointing out that a fair price mechanism for farmers would go a long way in ensuring better remuneration for their crops, Amarinder has appealed to the Central government to come out with a national framework for the same.
The second key issue that threatens to put the government completely on the defensive is the recent sand mining scam, which allegedly involves one of the senior-most cabinet ministers, Rana Gurjit Singh. The Opposition is expected to gun for the minister and seek his removal.
There have already been protests and public demonstrations by the Opposition across the state as a measure to build up the pressure on the government. The developments have hit the government hard, as it has lost the moral high ground of putting an end to the mafia culture on which it had sought votes from the people barely four months ago.
The people of the state are now questioning whether the present regime is any different from the Akali-BJP combine which they threw out. In fact, the Congress regime is being accused of all the things that it blamed the Akalis for – whether it is the mafia culture, political vendetta, registering false police cases etc.
Liquor ads near Golden Temple
Another controversy that is raging is the one over the screening of liquor advertisements on LED screens on the Heritage Street leading up to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Observers feel this was something avoidable, and even otherwise, the party could have just put an end to it by ordering a probe or taking action once it came to light. Instead, it chose to attack the Akalis.
State Congress chief Sunil Jakhar went on to accuse the erstwhile Parkash Singh Badal government of 'eroding' religious institutions. He claimed that this is also a heritage from the Akalis, who had given out 15-year contracts for these screens in sheer haste, and had also failed to control the advertisement content.
“They (Parkash Singh Badal and his son and deputy Sukhbir Badal) are responsible for this contract. So why are they blaming us now?” said Jakhar, adding that the Badals had evidently engaged in the entire transaction for commercial gains for themselves. He added that the Badals seemed to have been interested only in pushing up footfalls, without appreciating the fact that the place was a centre of pilgrimage for people from around the world, and its sanctity needed to be maintained at all costs.
Pointing to the 'measly' Rs 5 lakh per annum fee for which the concession had been granted for crores of rupees worth of sites, Jakhar said there was clearly huge financial bungling involved in the contract, which seemed to have been designed to fill the pockets of a few individuals, causing massive loss to the state exchequer.
He said that it's the Akalis who should apologise for hurting the religious sentiments of the Sikh community by granting such a shady and ill-conceived concession in the first place.
The Akalis have hit back, asking Amarinder to educate Jakhar on Sikh religious ethos and governance, as Jakhar had fallen flat on his face while trying to espouse on both in his eagerness to please his bosses.
Akali MP from Anandpur Sahib, Prem Singh Chandumajra, said it was strange that Jakhar had, like an 'uninitiated recruit', tried to question the Sikh credentials of the SAD while choosing to speak on an administrative lapse by the Amritsar Development Authority (ADA).
“Instead of questioning the ADA and demanding why it had not checked display of liquor advertisements on giant screens, Jakhar started claiming that the SAD had not even spared the Harmandir Sahib. Surely Jakhar must know that it is his party and his former PM Indira Gandhi which did not spare the Harmandir Sahib by attacking it with tanks. How can he be so ignorant about Sikh history?” the Akali leader asked.
Chandumajra said Jakhar apparently even distorted facts when he stated that the entire advertising contract had been given to a private company for a sum of Rs 5 lakh per year. “This is not true. The contract is for Rs 50 lakh per annum. While Rs 5 lakh is given to ADA, Rs 45 lakh is given to the municipal corporation. Jakhar should immediately apologise for resorting to lies and deceit on such a sensitive matter,” he said.
This controversy is not expected to die down soon and will be another potent weapon in the hands of the Opposition to attack the government on the floor of the house.
In fact, the Akalis seem to have done their homework well. They held dharnas in all the districts on Monday to raise 'the burning issues confronting the state and awake the deaf and dumb government about the problems of the people'.
The issues raised at these dharnas included the sand mining scam, the government's apathy towards farmers' problems and its 'betrayal' on the issue of farm loan waiver, the failure of the government to control incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib, administrative and governance failures, continuing atrocities against Dalits along with the deteriorating law and order situation.
A delegation of party leaders, along with those of its ally the BJP, also met state governor VP Singh Badnore on Tuesday, and handed over a memorandum to him.
The AAP leadership, too, is geared up to take on the government on these issues. Besides the issues being raised by the Akalis, the party also intends to take on the government on poor education standards.
The party has also called one of its Delhi MLAs, Saurabh Bharadwaj, to train its Punjab legislators for the Assembly session. Besides, experts on various subjects have been engaged to assist party MLAs in participating in discussions in the House.
A lot of fireworks are expected in the session, scheduled from 14-23 June. There are reports that the government has curtailed the length of the session, which was earlier supposed to continue till month-end.