By Manish Tiwari: Most political parties in India are centered round individuals and inherited power and the Congress and the Akali Dal are no different. But no two politicians can be as different as Capt Amarinder Singh and Parkash Singh Badal are — in their style of functioning and persona.
A month after Capt Amarinder took over as Chief Minister of Punjab for the second time, people, especially journalists, have started comparing his style of working and accessibility to that of the Badals. To put it straight, many still have fresh memories of 2002-3 when Capt Amarinder as CM drew widespread criticism for being ‘inaccessible’ to the common people as also his own party leaders. His detractors led by Rajinder Kaur Bhattal rapped him for his inaccessibility to not just the common man but even to his ministers and MLAs.
Led by Bhattal, around 30 Congress MLAs had launched the dissident movement against Capt Amarinder, lamenting that only a select few were allowed to meet the CM by his then Principal Secretary Sanjit K Sinha and the ‘coterie’. Their crusade against Capt Amarinder finally ended with Bhattal ‘bagging’ the post of deputy CM for herself.
The situation, however, is different this time. The Chief Minister has appointed three very efficient and well-intentioned IAS officers in the CMO – Chief Principal Secretary to CM Suresh Kumar, Principal Secretary Tejvir Singh and Special Principal Secretary Gurkirat Kirpal Singh who are always accessible to politicians, the public and officers, listening to them and sorting out many of their problems.
During the last five years of the Badal rule, the CMO largely remained non-functional as the father-son Badal duo preferred to work from their official residences. Hardly any officer would sit on the second floor of the Secretariat. With the change of guard, the CMO today is abuzz with activity and the officers can be seen working till late hours.
While the Badals were accessible to the public, they faced a different kind of charge. Their own ministers and MLAs often accused them of ‘centralising the power for themselves’ and meeting only those whom they wanted to. On the other hand, Capt Amarinder may not be as accessible as his predecessor was, but he has right from the beginning delegated powers to his officers, and by abolishing systems like ‘halka in-charge’ empowered the system (read the civil and police administration) to directly take control of the government. However, I am sure that those at the top in civil and police administration must be taking Capt Amarinder’s orders on important and contentious matters on a daily basis. Even the critics would agree that the CMO in the last one
month has functioned in a normal course and has been in easy access to all.
Badal and Sukhbir being mass leaders have been far more accessible to the people. They would frequently attend programmes in different parts of the State and be available to the masses through public interactions and Sangat Darshans where cheques would be distributed on the spot to already ‘identified’ beneficiaries.
Badal is a punctuality maniac, while his son Sukhbir is a trifle relaxed about his timetable. As a result, the latter largely depended on his “coterie” for public interactions. Some of his officers, however, thrived on the chaos created in the deputy CM’s office and many a time misused his ‘large-heartedness’ to have their way — this way or that way.
They often ensured Sukhbir’s accessibility only to some interest groups and “scratched each others’ backs”. At times, they got such orders and instructions issued to the police and bureaucracy through the deputy CM which even the master may not have intended to. I am told this work culture around Sukhbir cost his party dear.
During the Akali regime, there were two different power centres – the CM office and the deputy CM’s office and many a times, contradictory signals were sent to the administration and the police from these two offices. Not to forget the third power centre in Bikramjit Singh Majithia who wielded a lot of influence over the government — directly or through his brother-in-law Sukhbir.
Today, with senior Congress leaders, Bhattal and Partap Singh Bajwa not at the helm of affairs, there is only one power centre in Punjab. Though one month is too short a period to judge a leader’s style of functioning, Capt Amarinder and his trusted officers are in command, and contrary to popular perception, nobody’s complaining about Capt Amarinder this time, not even against his Media Adviser Raveen Thukral, who being a journalist is always available to the media; a charge Badal’s adviser Harcharan Singh Bains attracted from his own leaders and detractors within the CMO and deputy CM’s Office.
Fortunately for Capt Amarinder, the darbari culture is no more visible and the new government has been focusing largely on the agenda of governance. In public perception, Sukhbir failed to watch
out for those who strut around him. Will Capt Amarinder stay the course?