With a year to go for LS polls, Akalis start getting their act together in Punjab
It has been one year that the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has been out of power in Punjab and it is only a year left for the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. Sensing that there is little time left, the party under Sukhbir Badal has started getting its act together. Sources say that the party will soon be shifting gears after the Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh presents its Budget.
The SAD had won four seats in the last Lok Sabha polls while its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won two. While four seats were won by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had won four and the Congress could manage to win only three of the total of 13 seats and this included Amarinder's victory over BJP leader Arun Jaitley in Amritsar.
The Akalis have started setting the tone for the parliamentary battle next year. The party along with the BJP used the occasion of the Hola Mohalla congregation at Anandpur Sahib on the occasion of Holi to make its tone and tenor clear for the days to come. The Congress and AAP had refrained from holding a political conference on the occasion continuing with the practice of not holding political rallies on religious occasions.
Sukhbir along with the state BJP chief Vijay Sampla, Akali MP Prem Singh Chandumajra and former ministers in the Akali government Madan Mohan Mittal and Daljit Singh Cheema lambasted the Congress regime accusing it of failing on every front.
The Akalis used the occasion to strike an emotional cord with the people while mixing religion and politics which is their trademark. Sukhbir expressed pride over former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal spending Rs 2,000 crore on building memorials and preserving Punjab’s heritage. He attacked his cousin and finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal along with culture minister Navjot Singh Sidhu calling such initiatives a 'white elephant' and waste of resources. He attacked Amarinder for not visiting the Golden Temple for four months after assuming office.
Claiming that the Congress is all set to deny the farmers free power that was given during the decade long Akali rule, Sukhbir announced that his party has decided to 'shake the government out of slumber' and would gherao the state assembly on the very first day of the Budget session.
Sampla claimed that all development works have come to a standstill under the Congress rule and people are being deprived of benefits.
The Akalis have been cornering the state government over 'Goonda Tax' being collected at various places and continuing illegal mining in the state.
Recently, they took on the Dalit ministers in the government asking them why they have not been raising the issue of violation of implementation of Right to Education (RTE) Act which assures free and compulsory education in private unaided schools to Dalits and those Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. Former minister Gulzar Singh Ranike has pointed that the reprimand by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes in this context is a proof of the anti-Dalit attitude of the Congress government. “It is condemnable that Dalit ministers like Charanjit Singh Channi and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot never spoke out about the need to implement the RTE Act ,” he said.
Top Akali leaders have been sending across strong messages to the voters on various emotive and populist issues. Sukhbir has decided not to reply to the chairman of the commission probing the incidents of sacrilege during the SAD-BJP regime. He has accused Justice Ranjit Singh (Retired) of being a Congressman and a friend of Amarinder. He has asked the chairman to 'recuse himself from chairing the commission'.
Meanwhile Sukhbir's wife and Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal recently tried to score some brownie points during Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit urging the latter to facilitate starting Toronto - Amritsar Air Canada flights and asking the Canadian government to jointly celebrate the 550th Parkash Parv of Guru Nanak Dev in league with the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC).
The Congress will have to ensure that it starts delivering on the promises made to the people during the Assembly polls. It has a cushion still working in its favour in the form of people still being angry over the performance of the SAD-BJP regime but it remains to be seen till when this anger survives before it subsides.
In a meeting with his party MPs and MLAs ministers on Thursday Amarinder announced his government’s decision to set aside Rs 128 crore every month for disbursement of old age pension and assured that the distribution of free mobile phones to youth would commence this year.
Reiterating his government’s commitment to implementation of every single manifesto promise of the Congress, he claimed that as many as 150 promises have been fulfilled in the first year itself and the remaining are also in the process of execution.
Amarinder reiterated that loans for 10.25 lakh of the total 17.5 lakh farmers in the state would be settled by November this year, with 1 lakh farmers set to be provided debt relief certificates at a state level function this month itself. He further disclosed that the March 11 job mela will see employment being provided to 40,000 youth.
He shared details of his government’s plans to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev and disclosed that he has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for grants for the programme. He has also requested former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to chair the organising committee for the event.