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Chandigarh: How Badal ensured a Pandora's box remained shut

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:48 IST
The main issue 
  • The Centre had decided to appoint an independent administrator for Chandigarh
  • However, Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal managed to stall the appointment
  • Eager to please SAD ahead of Punjab polls, the Centre obliged

What followed  
  • Opposition parties are of the opinion that a power hungry Badal is up to mischief again
  • They have demanded that Badal remove his daughter-in-law from the council of ministers

More in the story 
  • Why the appointment of KJ Alphons mattered
  • The Chandigarh issue

By persuading the Narendra Modi-led central government to put on hold the appointment of an independent administrator for Chandigarh, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has managed to put a lid on the Pandora's Box.

The Central Government decided not to go ahead with the appointment of an independent Administrator for the Union Territory on Thursday. The proposal to appoint Kerala's bureaucrat-turned-politician KJ Alphons Kannanthanam as the first independent Administrator for Chandigarh had not gone down well with BJP's ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

Bone of contention

Transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab was one of the key issues during the almost two-decade long militancy in the state.

The Centre's move was met with the opposition Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) slamming the ruling SAD-BJP combine for compromising on Punjab's interests. This is something Badal can ill afford just ahead of the forthcoming assembly polls.

Particularly when he is trying to build the Akali campaign around the riparian rights of Punjab while refusing to share its river waters with the neighbouring states and raking up the Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) issue at almost every political event he attends.

The move would also have led to a political embarrassment for the Akalis in the days to come over their failure to do anything to get the city transferred to Punjab.

Since 2 June, 1984, the Punjab Governor has been holding the additional charge of Union Territory (UT) Administrator. And from the same day, the post of UT Chief Commissioner was re-designated as Adviser to Administrator.

Matter of transfer

The Centre had on Wednesday reportedly decided to appoint Alphons as the new independent administrator. The move has been stalled following protest from Badal asking it to "restore the time-tested convention on Chandigarh".

Alphons is known as the 'Demolition man of Delhi' owing to a massive demolition drive in the national capital carried out under him when he was the commissioner at Delhi Development Authority (DDA).

He reportedly quit the IAS in 2006, became an independent MLA in Kerala backed by CPM-led Left Democratic Front. He joined the BJP in 2011 and he was inducted into its national executive.

On coming to know of Alphons' appointment, Badal urged Modi to review the decision saying Chandigarh belongs to Punjab and its right over it can never be "diluted or compromised with".

He also reportedly spoke to Home Minister Rajnath Singh on the issue. At present, the city is the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana.

Divide and rule

Veteran political observer Jagtar Singh told Catch that the issue of transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab dates back to 1966. "At that time the Akali slogan was 'Khidta phul Gulab da, Chandigarh Punjab da' (like the blooming rose flower, Chandigarh belongs to Punjab)," he recalls.

While the tussle over its transfer was picking up pace, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1970 had come up with a formula advocating that Haryana gets the areas under Abohar and Fazilka districts of Punjab in return to Chandigarh going to Punjab.

This formula was however rejected. Observers say that these two districts were not contiguous to Haryana, but Indira had planned to provide a corridor via Kaddu Kheda village.

"What transpired later was that there was mischief. Had this happened, Haryana could have made riparian claims over Punjab waters," feels Jagtar Singh.

Thereafter came the emergency followed by the Congress losing power in 1977 and the matter went into the background.

"But it was the failure of the Badal government which was in power alongside the Janata government in the Centre to get the city transferred to Punjab. It had a friendly Morarji Desai-led government in the Centre and the Haryana Chief Minister Devi Lal was his very good friends. But the Akalis did nothing. Thereafter, the Akali government was dismissed. Again to cover up for their failures, the Akalis raked up the demand during their Dharam Yudh Morcha," he added.

Raking up issues

As Punjab was engulfed in militancy and the demand for Chandigarh was one of the key issues, an effort came in the form of Punjab Accord in 1985 that was signed by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Akali President Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal that spelled unconditional transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab.

People recall how the transfer was scheduled to take place on the Republic Day in1986, the invitation cards had been sent and the media persons from Delhi had arrived.

But at the last moment, it was conveyed to the then Chief Minister Surjit Singh Barnala by the Centre that the transfer was not taking place. Barnala threatened to resign but did not. "Things would have been very different had Barnala resigned at that point," says Jagtar Singh.

With all this history, the very moment the Modi government made an attempt to appoint an independent administrator for Chandigarh, the Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh came out with the immediate rejection of the move calling it an unjust and aimed at snatching away Chandigarh from Punjab.

Congress speak

Amarinder attacked Badal saying, "You either make the central government, of which your party is an important constituent, rescind the move or you withdraw your daughter-in-law Harsimrat Kaur Badal from the council of ministers. Otherwise, it will be proved beyond doubt that you are clearly in criminal connivance with the Centre."

He said the Congress would strongly protest and oppose the move in all available fora, including public and judicial, saying it not only subverts and undermines the Rajiv-Longowal Accord, but also threatens the hard-earned peace in Punjab.

"It reminds me of Badal's connivance with Devi Lal for approving the construction of SYL canal as this time again he has maintained a conniving and criminal silence over such a sensitive and emotive matter that will eventually lead to Chandigarh being snatched away from Punjab," he said.

He disclosed that over three decades ago, Chandigarh was purposely brought under the administrative control of the Punjab Governor, who till today happened to be the ex-officio administrator, as it was agreed that till Haryana sets up its own separate capital this arrangement will continue.

Subsequently, Chandigarh would be transferred to Punjab.

Amarinder accused the BJP led NDA government at the Centre, of which SAD is a part in initiating a mischievous move to start a reverse process of loosening the administrative grip and control of Punjab over Chandigarh.

AAP attacks

The AAP leadership also did not loose any time to take on the Akalis. The head of AAP's campaign committee and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann termed the move as washing out of the Punjab's valid stake on Chandigarh.

He charged that Badal of bowing down in front of Modi in his greed for power and selling Punjab's interests for personal gains.

"Be it crop insurance, Centre's anti-Punjab stand by NDA in Supreme Court (on SYL) and now this decision of the appointment of an independent administrator of Chandigarh, where was Harsimrat Kaur, when such anti-Punjab decisions were being taken?" Mann asked.

Badal speaks up

A defensive Badal dismissed Amarinder's statement as 'nothing more than a case of a crocodile shedding its tears'.

"Will he please tell Punjabis as to who kept Chandigarh and other Punjabi-speaking areas out of Punjab? Will he also tell why the city was not transferred to Punjab on 26 January, 1986, as promised under the Rajiv-Longowal Accord which he now talks about? Will he also tell why did he not resign as a senior minister in the Punjab government when the Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre had betrayed Punjabis at the eleventh hour on the midnight of 25-26January, 1986? Amarinder or any other Congress leader has no moral right to speak on the subject. They are the real culprits for Chandigarh being denied to Punjab as well as other acts of injustice and discrimination against the state," Badal said.

Badal further underlined, "Punjab will never allow its legitimate right over the Capital and other Punjabi-speaking areas to be compromised or diluted."

However, experts like Jagtar Singh feel, "The issue of Chandigarh is both notional as well as emotional."

He points out that Punjab gave up its claims on Chandigarh years ago when it allowed appointments of officials from outside Punjab at the key positions in Chandigarh. Most of such positions are now with bureaucrats from DANICS cadre.

Like SYL and now Chandigarh, several more such emotive issues are expected to crop up ahead of the Punjab polls.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

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First published: 19 August 2016, 1:14 IST