The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab has completed six months in power. At a time when the party is gearing up to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress in the poll-bound states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, showcasing its “performance” in Punjab, it is fitting to review the performance of the government of AAP.
The survey is promising
The party came to power after winning an unprecedented 92 out of 117 seats in Punjab, ending the electoral dominance of the Congress and Akali Dal in the state’s post-partition politics.
The verdict was as much a result of anti-authority as of faith in the “new” party. The party managed to create a quiet wave in its favor by promising to end what it called “institutionalized” corruption, a mafia haven and a drug-ridden system. It also promised to get Punjab’s economy back on track by bringing in investments in the agriculture sector.
Furthermore, ffollowing the party’s “Delhi model” of development, the AAP also promised improvements in the health and education sectors.
Highlighting the problem of unemployment, which is causing the country’s youth to move out in huge numbers, the party promised to open government jobs, improve the education sector and regulate the jobs of temporary employees. The party also went far beyond its rival parties in promising “free payments” such as supply of free electricity up to 300 units to every household, payment of Rs 1,000 to every adult woman in Punjab, etc.
Execution: Hit or Miss?
The past six months have witnessed several decisions being taken by the Bhagwant Mann government in line with its poll promises. However, the manner in which they were announced reveals the character of the ten-year-old party.
Mann’s first decision was to open a helpline to fight corruption, which he did posted on social media and asked people to record audio/videos of officials demanding bribes and send them via WhatsApp to the given mobile number. Among the most prominent people to fall into the trap was the then Minister of State for Health Vijay Singla, who was not only sacked but also arrested on corruption charges by the Chief Minister in a ‘monitoring operation’.
Kejriwal, while hailing the decision as the “dawn of a new era”, reiterated the party’s vowed policy of “zero tolerance for corruption”. Ironically, another AAP minister is currently in the dock on corruption charges, another victim of the ‘sting operation’.
The government also announced its intention to pass a bill (which it did) to amend pension rules for legislators, allowing them to use pensions for only one term, even if they had been members for multiple terms, as was case earlier.
In order to end the “VIP culture”, a decision was taken in phases to withdraw the security cover of 424 persons, including former legislators. The move was justified in the name of increasing police forces on the ground to fight organized crime and corruption. The government, however, had to partially backtrack on the move following the assassination of popular Punjabi singer Sidhu Mus Wala, who was among those whose security cover was withdrawn.
In the service sector, temporary government employment has been regularized and jobs have been advertised, but not to the extent promised. University and college teachers have finally received their seventh pay commission, after years of waiting, though they will have to wait even longer for arrears. On the service delivery front based on the “Delhi model”, the government has also opened several mohalla clinics in Punjab and upgraded government schools, but again, not to the extent expected.
On the drug issue, arrests were made in thousands of cases involving serving officers, leading to a visible improvement in the situation on the ground; or at the very least, preventing the situation from worsening further.
In a country burdened by huge debts, the free payments come in the form of free electricity of up to 300 units for each household. To revive the state’s once famous manufacturing sector, the party has been trying to attract potential investors, but without much success. Mann’s trip to Germany for this very purpose ended on a disastrous note, with the opposition claiming he had relapsed into alcoholism despite publicly vowing abstinence.
The agricultural sector, recovering from the post-Green Revolution crisis, has not witnessed the much-needed diversification. The government, in its efforts to encourage farmers, has announced a minimum support price (MSP) for moong dal, which not only enables farmers to have a third crop for the year, but also helps in increasing the depleting nutrient quality of the soil. .
Interestingly, most of these decisions were announced in a very “public” mode, typical of AAP’s brand of media-fed theater politics, which aims to gain traction on social/new media platforms using videos and tweets in addition to regular newspapers on whole page. ads.
The party’s penchant for drama was confirmed in the recent hoax created by party workers about the BJP allegedly trying to woo AAP legislators in Punjab, as it allegedly did with other opposition MLAs in states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa, using monetary or ministerial inducement. The party aimed to highlight the integrity of its members and also take a jab at the Congress, whose legislators were allegedly victims of ‘Operation Lotus’.
The episode also led to a very public spat between Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit and the party, as it demanded that a special session of the Legislative Assembly be convened for a floor test, and the Governor initially refused to do so on legal advice.
Congress and BJP leaders, for their part, have long maintained that many AAP legislators are disgruntled and ready to defect at will. The AAP leadership must be credited for preventing defections as the party has, in the past, witnessed defections on a regular basis. Half of the 20 MLAs who won on AAP tickets or its support in the 2017 assembly elections switched sides, and so did the four MLAs who won in 2014.
Besides failing to fulfill the huge promises it made before the elections, AAP also faced a ‘perception’ challenge as the opposition claimed that the Mann government in Punjab is a proxy government run by the party high command in Delhi (read, Kajriwal). Further, the Punjab government has been accused of using large amounts of Punjab government funds and resources to promote the party in other poll-bound states.
Chief Minister Mann could not project himself as a Punjab leader who has relative autonomy from his bosses in Delhi. This, despite playing the regional card by opposing the demand to make Panjab University a central university or the extension of central service rules to employees of the Union Territory of Chandigarh (UT) or to employees of educational institutions based in UT.
The omnipresence of Raghav Chadha, a Delhi-based Punjabi politician and now Rajya Sabha member from the state, who is seen as the ‘regent’ of AAP’s Delhi durbar, has not helped dispel the perception.
Kejriwal has also been very public in endorsing every major government decision. He was seen as giving Rajya Sabha tickets to non-Punjabis, but the party later made amends by nominating an environmentalist and a social activist from Punjab for the remaining two seats.
And on the electoral front, the party faced a setback. Sikh separatist leader Simranjit Singh Mann of the radical Akali Dal (Amritsar) faction won the Sangur Lok Sabha bypoll earlier this year, which was necessitated by Mann’s resignation as an MP. This came as a setback as the ruling party in the state is expected to win such polls.
However, the specter of a resurgence of militancy remains remote despite the Sangrur verdict and other similar developments such as Akal Takht Jathedar reportedly asked Sikh youth to keep arms to “defend their faith”; the public display of Bhindranwale posters; or the Akali Dal demand that the “Bandi-Sikhs” be freed.
Communal peace prevailed though the smoldering issue of sacrilege was yet to be resolved to the satisfaction of the Sikh masses. However, the issue of illegal sand mining in the border regions as flagged by security agencies, the frequent landing of drones loaded with weapons, fake money and drugs from across the border and the incident of the rocket attack on the Punjab police. intelligence headquarters; all present a threat to national security and ethnic peace in the border state.
The inexperienced AAP government has a major task ahead of it to keep state agencies and forces on high alert and in combat mode. Cooperation with the Union government in this aspect, as well as in seeking economic assistance, is vital.
The precarious state of Punjab’s economy and its geo-strategic location calls for a degree of understanding and cooperation between the Union government and the state, something that was evident during the regime of Captain Amarinder Singh.
As for the promise of rooting out corruption and organized crime from the entrenched mafia, a much more systematic effort is needed.