Two months into govt, Amarinder is already ceding ground in Punjab
A little more than two months since the Congress stormed into power in Punjab, the party seems to be squandering away precious political space to the Opposition - the Shiromani Akali Dal - Bharatiya Janata Party combine and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
“How is it any different from the previous Akali regime?” is a question that has already started doing the rounds as the party deals with corruption charges and other dilemmas.
The Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress is finding it rather difficult to emerge unscathed from the 'sand storm' it has landed. His Cabinet minister Rana Gurjit Singh has been among those whose names have cropped up in a sand mining scam.
On the one hand, the Opposition has been gunning for Rana Gurjit. On the other, the common man wonders whether construction materials would ever be affordable. For the latter, this is more of a continuation of the 'mafia rule' during the Akali regime.
Amarinder has prima facie ruled out cancelling the recent sand mine auctions under Opposition or media pressure. He has categorically ruled out taking any arbitrary action on the issue.
Any decision would be based on judicious application of law and in the interest of justice, he asserted.
The auctions were transparent, under the supervision of a committee headed by a retired high court judge and two senior officers of the Indian Administrative Service, Amarinder said. The panel sought detailed inputs from the state mining department, following media reports that e-auctions had been compromised to benefit some persons, he added..
Amarinder added that as far as the charges against Rana Gurjit are concerned, the government is awaiting the report of the judicial commission set up to probe the same.
But the Opposition is in no mood to relent and if not sorted out in time, this issue is going to blow up the Assembly proceedings when the session is convened. AAP has already put its foot on the pedal and is accelerating the noise against the government. It has submitted a memorandum to the governor and plans to launch district wise agitations. The Akalis too have been hitting at the government.
The death of KPS Gill
Amarinder has also stirred the hornet's nest with his statements on former Punjab Police director general KPS Gill, who died last week. It is a well-known fact that Gill remains one of the most controversial entities of the dark days of militancy in the state. His persona has also often dominated the political discourse in Panthic politics.
Now with Amarinder exhorting the people of Punjab to emulate the qualities of Gill as a true tribute to the 'great man', people have been left surprised. At Gill's Bhog ceremony in Delhi last week, Amarinder described Gill as a leader who will continue to shine through the sands of time and said in the death of the former DGP he had personally lost a friend.
His words were no different from those of former Amritsar BJP MLA Laxmi Kanta Chawla, who described Gill as the protector of Punjab and the destroyer of militancy, saying his work for Punjab is well recognized by those who had suffered at the hands of terrorism, and those who love the state and support peace.
A change in perception
So far, people saw Amarinder as a leader who stood up in the face of all wrongs. He had resigned from Congress as well as parliament in protest against Operation Bluestar. He had also quit the government led by Surjit Singh Barnala for playing to the tune of Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre and allowing the searches in the Golden Temple complex by the security forces.
People expected him to extend formal condolences at Gill's demise, but not to sing praises for the former DGP - who is still seen as the face of state terror by many. The Akalis and other Panthic parties are surely going to rake up the issue in the future.
In fact, this gives credence to the widely discussed phenomenon of the Congress continuing to woo the Hindu voters in Punjab who had shifted loyalty from the SAD-BJP combine ahead of the recent assembly polls following demonetisation and fear of the return of Sikh hardline politics.
Observers say that his constant raking up of Khalistan phenomenon every few days and his attacking overseas Khalistani sympathisers is also a step in this direction. They point out his recent controversial stand on not meeting Canadian defence minister Harjit Sajjan during his visit to India on the grounds that the latter is a `Khalistani sympathiser’.
Observers had at that time also pointed that Amarinder is trying to cave a niche for himself in competitive nationalism.
His stand on welcoming the Army's Chief' General Bipin Rawat's Commendation Card for Major Leetul Gogoi, the officer who used a Kashmiri man as a human shield recently is being seen as another example.
He has gone to the extent of describing himself as a ‘hardliner’ and a ‘soldier’ when he recently called for a zero compromise policy by India against inimical forces across the border, even as he dismissed the Khalistani threats against him, saying he would not allow anyone to disturb the state’s peace.
Another alleged pointer to his attempts to woo the Hindu voters is the decision of his government to appoint Guriqbal Singh, the grandson of former Congress chief minister Beant Singh, as Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) against a direct quota post by bending rules.
Perhaps this is all aimed at the forthcoming local body polls in the state. But all this holds a lot of symbolic relevance in Punjab that has Sikhs, a national minority, in majority. This is a state that has still to come out completely from the shadows of militancy and anti Sikh riots of 1984, a state that is battling drug menace and farmer suicides on a large scale. Every statement and move by the government has deep ramifications and these have started showing within three months of the Congress coming to power.
Reacting to allegations of corruption, political high handedness and vendetta surfacing against the party leaders, a veteran political analyst in Chandigarh said, “Can you expect a wolf to give up its habits? They have been out of power for a decade and now want to enjoy the spoils instantly.”
One thing is for sure: With AAP upping the ante and returning to the ground and SAD president Sukhbir Badal carrying out an organisational overhaul, things are no longer going to be easy either for Amarinder or his party in the days to come.