Category Archives: Punjab

Peace and Prosperity in Punjab

India – our homeland which feeds us every day is home to civilization 10,000 years old. India is not just a piece of land south to china or east to Pakistan. It is a country where 1.21 billion people come together, people like you and me. These people are farmers that toil all day long in fields to feed us. These people are workers who risk their life and limbs working in factories to shape things that make our life comfortable. These people are soldiers who stand guard our borders every second of every day so that we can live in peace. In such vast treasure of culture, Punjab occupies a special place. The north western state has a proud history. Who can forget the brave men of Chamkaur or the Udham Singh’s avenge the martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh. End of March, which brings back sacrifices of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru & Sukhdev has seen Punjab reel in communal tensions.

The pious land of Punjab has been marred with riots and bloodshed in the name of religion. Partition of 1947 saw saw massacres, mass murders, burning villages, rapes, hunger and what not on both sides of the border. Humanity could sink no lower & human could not be more inhumane. People with dreams of an independent India went through nightmares that no human being deserves. Father who fought in the battle for independence, whose eyes have grown old to see his country’s flag fluttering in sky, had to run a sword through his daughters so that they don’t have a hell on earth! Is this independence we fought for 200 years? Is it India/Pakistan, martyrs died for? No, certainly not.

Punjab has a lot of bigger issues to dwell upon. Punjab has been agonized by low sex ratio for some time now. What is the meaning of all the prosperity and comforts if you can’t protect half or I must say just “almost” half of your population? Recent census suggests sex ratio in Punjab to be 876 i.e. 876 girls for every 1000 boys. This is ridiculous even by India standards. More disturbing than this is the fact that child sex ratio (children between ages 0-6) is 798. The discrimination of pink and blue is quite pronounced in these figures. Improving medical facilities are being misused & selective abortions have become a trend. Unfortunately, the statistics are worse for Punjab. Yes, days of infanticide have gone. But now there is darkness. We say women are safe in Punjab. They enjoy freedoms, liberties and rights much like their male counterparts. Such statements seem far fetched when one can’t protect life of girl child in womb. The life of women is not valued, rather despised. This problem is not just limited to rural areas but shockingly it is more prominent in urban areas. Unfortunately, in rural areas, there are not ample facilities to nurse a woman during child birth but there are good enough for selective abortion. Tragedy is sex ratio at birth is worse for literate families (749 in census 2001) than their illiterate counterparts (845). It is even worse when the parents of fetus are graduate or above (732). So, we obviously cannot blame the illiterate and ignorant. In-fact, thank god that we have some illiterate and ignorant people otherwise god bless Punjab!

Moving on, just 55% of our households have both electricity and toilet facility. A mere 49.9% are in “good” condition. A meager 33% of our families cook using LPG. Most villages in Punjab have irregular power supply. Power is available during the night only. This renders institutions like hospitals, schools and banks in difficult situation. This has increased dependence on diesel generators which are an expensive option and cannot be afforded by normal people or schools and small dispensaries. Part of this problem is attributed to the perception of general population that they should not pay for the electricity as it is their right to have free access; the mindset of people has to be changed so that they understand that you got to pay for services provided. While India is facing a power crunch, they should be looking at alternative sources especially solar and wind which has been widely used in most parts of Europe. Over the years the water table has dropped significantly in most parts of Punjab. There was a time in 1960s farmers were able to extract water using manual methods, i.e. bulls used to turn the buckets (Halts/Thindhas), the depth of water was approximately 10m. The current water table is generally now at 30m which is extracted by electrical means. The situation of drinking water and irrigation of farms in Punjab would only worsen unless remedial measures are put in place in more systematic manner.

However hope is not lost. We still have a good HDI of 0.679 which is way above the Indian average of 0.547. We may not be greatest but we certainly are very much capable. But in order to do so, we must stand together hand in hand. After all, any kind of communal conflict or civil unrest has never served anyone well except for those with vested interests. We have to understand something that Benjamin Franklin said in beautiful words “There was never a good war or a bad peace.”

Punjab Assembly Elections

Punjab post 1966 has seen an alteration of government after every election with the population voting anti – incumbency. However, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) created history when they came to power successively for 2nd term. Last time this happened was in 1951-57, 1957-62, 1962-67 when congress dominated Punjab assembly elections. In those days, congress commanded a vote share of well above 40% and a good 2-3rd majority. After the partition, SAD came to power.

Since then, there have been alternate governments of Congress and SAD, though congress has never been really able to dominate the state elections. It’s true that congress got 87 seats in 1992 assembly elections but the voter turnout of mere 24% questions true congress domination in Punjab. Other than that, congress score was 48, 38, 66, 17, 63, 32, 14, 62 & 44 in 1967, 69, 72, 77, 80, 85, 97, 2002 & 2007 respectively, magical number being 59. Whereas the SAD – BJP alliance touched 80 seats mark on more than one occasion.

However, congress should be commended on superb comeback victory in 2002 after the 1997 debacle. In 1997, congress confined to only 14 seats. In 2002, it fought back in government with a total of 62 seats. This was thanks to the apologies rendered by congress party stalwarts for its past misdeeds. Also the restoration of peace in Punjab under stewardship of Beant Singh’s regime gained congress a lot of vote-bank including Sikh votes. This was boosted by corruption, nepotism, growing infighting in SAD and police atrocities throughout state under the Akali regime.

2007 was again a closely fought battle between the 2 rivals. Intensity was reflected in the nature of electoral participation of 1.69 crore voters which at 76% turnout was high even by Punjab standards. Punjab voted for change and SAD – BJP alliance came to power with 67 seats. It was the first time that the party coming to power had not dominated the malwa region. Among the factors that explain the overall congress loss, the most distinctive was the shift in votes of urban people, mostly upper class Hindu’s which prompted unprecedented success of BJP in Punjab. This was due to pro-Jat Sikh image of Amrinder Singh and his attempts to dabble in Gurudwara politics. After coming to power on anti – corruption and good governance platform, all government did was launch an all out offensive against the Badal family. Internal bickering did not help by any means. So, a combination of these major factors led to fall of congress popularity.

However, the 2012 elections have put up an interesting pretext. Manpreet Badal, who was Finance Minister in the Badal government and was until recently seen as the heir to the SAD(Badal) leadership, broke away to form the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP). A three-time legislator from the Gidarbaha constituency which falls in the Badal stronghold, Manpreet quit the party in 2011 citing the autocratic nature of the party leadership. It is widely believed that he was unhappy with Sukhbir Badal’s promotion as party president and his subsequent elevation to the post of Deputy Chief Minister. Manpreet was perhaps anguished by the development because he is several years senior to Sukhbir Badal in State politics. Moreover, Manpreet has considerable command over the traditional Akali vote bank because of his lineage and long involvement in party activities.

In the 2009 parliamentary elections, the Congress won eight seats, taking a lead in 65 Assembly segments, as opposed to the SAD-BJP’s six seats and lead in 44 Assembly segments. This indicated the emergence of a strong anti-incumbency sentiment. Sensing the public apathy, Sukhbir Badal launched election rallies much ahead of the announcement of the election schedule. He also advanced the launch of his campaign because Manpreet Badal had started to drum up support for himself against the government in February 2011 itself.

Ever since Manpreet’s rebellion, Sukhbir Badal has been on his toes. He was compelled to introduce governance reforms and consolidate his position in the party and the party’s position in the rural areas. He was forced to talk about development as opposed to Sikh identity issues. He also strengthened the party’s organisational structure gradually,” Ashutosh Kumar, a faculty member in the Political Science Department of Panjab University, said. While Prakash Singh Badal is seen as a grand old man in Punjab politics, Sukhbir is the one who talks about governance. This is primarily because Manpreet started the rhetoric of good governance in the party and debunked all forms of Sikh identity issues, the plank on which the SAD was formed and has evolved. In order to counter Manpreet’s opposition, Sukhbir became the new face of development in the SAD-BJP. The SAD-BJP government, after the losses it suffered in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, introduced several governance reforms, including the Right to Service Act, which holds the bureaucracy accountable for delayed services, and made access to farm loans easier. Another important scheme of the Badal government is the Atta-Dal scheme, the only successfully managed one out of many such schemes. It guarantees free wheat flour and pulses to the economically weak. While the normal below poverty line (BPL) number is somewhere close to three lakhs, the SAD-BJP combine in a State-specific survey redefined the number to around 20 lakhs. This has had a good response among the rural poor.

All these factors combined with over dependence of congress on anti-incumbency factor and inability to raise and propagate their agenda saw the SAD-BJP combine storm to power in Punjab for a second consecutive term in the state assembly polls which saw the Congress gaining in terms of vote percentage despite failing to live up to its expectations.