Manish Tiwari | Chandigarh
The politics of blame game has just begun in Punjab. The Aam Aadmi Party is training its guns on the Congress and the Akali Dal for allegedly hatching a conspiracy against the Leader of Opposition, Sukhpal Singh Khaira; SAD President Sukhbir Badal sees a larger design on the part of the Congress and the AAP to unsettle his party and family, especially brother-in-law Bikramjit Singh Majithia, while Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh is convinced that the Akalis and AAP leaders are purposely disrupting Vidhan Sabha proceedings and not letting his Government conduct its normal business.
While the honeymoon period is yet not over, the Capt Amarinder government has started facing the Opposition’s onslaught on a host of issues, including farm loan waiver, the party’s promise to initiate action against the Akali leaders, creation of jobs and State’s precarious financial situation.
Unlike this time, the situation was a bit different in 2002-3 when the Punjab Vigilance Bureau took care of the political odds in the first two years of the Capt Amarinder rule. The State Vigilance had then put the entire Opposition on the backfoot by getting Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir jailed and registering corruption cases against several Akali ministers within months of Amarinder taking over the reins. The agency, however, has been restrained this time from any such step, allowing the Opposition to settle down and gain strength to take on the Congress which presently looks firmly in saddle.
Watching the developments over the past few years, one can assume that both the Badals and Amarinder have moved on from the politics of ‘hounding’ each other (in 2002-07 and later in 2007-12). This, however, is against the wishes of some of the Congress leaders, including Partap Singh Bajwa and Navjot Singh Sidhu as well as AAP leaders like Sukhpal Singh Khaira and Kanwar Sandhu who would like the Chief Minister to join issues with the Badals. So far, their efforts have gone in vain. The Captain has not even moved an inch, while one leader who has chosen to maintain studied silence is Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal.
Compare this situation with the one obtaining in 2002. Capt Amarinder had taken off well and seemed poised to demolish the Opposition by causing fissures in their ranks and creating a strong divide in the Akali Dal. His anti-corruption crusade began in the right earnest with the arrest of the then Punjab Public Service Commission chairman Ravinder Pal Singh Sidhu on March 25, 2002.
For once, it appeared that he would finish the entire Opposition and rule the roost for long. But Capt Amarinder was soon bogged down handling Congress dissidents, who were nursing their own ambitions and grudged his style of functioning, and they began to create trouble for him. The anti-graft crusade became a political potato too hot for him to handle. His government attracted charges of vendetta since the then Capt Amarinder government singled out the Akalis and did not take action against the corrupt in the BJP and the Congress. In less than a year of his slapping corruption cases against one Akali leader after another, fissures started appearing within his own party.
The infighting cost the Congress successive elections as second rung leaders continued to nurse ambition to climb up the ladder. By the end of his term in 2007, Capt Amarinder had realised that it was a tall order to wipe out corruption. “It’s a Utopian idea,” he confided in me during the course of an interview.
His detractors concede that the Maharaja could have excelled during his previous stint as Chief Minister but for some of his confidantes who made access to him their business, and often misled him to grind their personal axe. Things improved only after some well-meaning bureaucrats found their way into his close circuit, and started giving him free and frank advice.
Ten years down the line, Capt Amarinder is in saddle again, but it seems he has covered a lot of ground. He knows well that most politicians within and outside his party would like to settle scores by ‘coaxing’ him to let loose his police and vigilance to take on their rivals. While politicians continue to play their games, in this vendetta chaos, the voter is feeling let down.
The Captain has so far avoided a confrontation and refused to get drawn into a situation as in the past. The likes of Sidhus, Bajwas and Khairas would always want him to commit, but will he?