Congress Prospects in Punjab Assembly Elections 2017
Congress Prospects in Punjab Assembly Elections 2017
“Punjab is the heart of the nation and nobody can insult it. Punjab gives life to the country. I have a special place for Punjab in my heart and all I want is to help the people of the state.”
Sh. Rahul Gandhi
The 2017 assembly elections in Punjab will be a real test of mainstream political parties. In the midst of its most crucial electoral battle, a fight that would determine whether the state would embark on a long haul for returning to the path of holistic governance or descend into further chaos. Political change in the state is almost given, now after the coming elections, but the nature of that change is critical for various reasons. The marginalization of other political parties i.e. the Left, BSP etc. is going to further decimate their relevance in the electoral process in the state. In this way the major competition in these elections will be among the Congress, the SADBJP alliance and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Punjab is going to witness one of the most keenly watched and interesting assembly elections since Independence
Historically, the Congress Party remained in power in Punjab until 1967 and after that both the Congress and the SAD formed the governments alternatively until 2012. It was only in the 2012 Assembly elections that the SAD-BJP alliance broke this cycle and has continued to remain in power until today. Last Assembly election that were held on 30th January 2012 where Congress had lost the Assembly elections by a narrow margin and roughly a dozen of its candidates lost by margins of less than two thousand votes. The vote-share of the Congress was just less than two percent of the combined vote-share of the BJP-SAD alliance. That time large number of Congress rebels spoiled the game for the party.
This time priority and agendas has been changed in Punjab like the antiincumbency wave against the State government is high on account of various issues like the drug menace in the State, farmer suicides, sky-rocketing prices of sand and gravel, corruption and arrogance of the low-level cadre of the ruling alliance, monopoly of the ruling family over the transport and liquor trades, gang wars and increasing lawlessness and insecurity of women in particular, and political opponents in general. Since the results of these elections the ruling party has been engaged in damage control exercise along with mobilising its traditional vote bank raising emotional issues namely the Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal, construction of memorials and sending people on pilgrimages outside the state at government’s cost.
The major issues in Punjab:
The Punjabis, for centuries, have been known for undertaking new experiments and fights against injustices and the barbarism of the ruling establishments. Because of this a large number of sociopolitical movements originated in the state before and after Independence. The primitive anger of the people against the ruling alliance in the 2014 elections was not an exception. Since then it has been increasing manifold as both the SAD and the BJP are facing dissidence and infighting within their respective parties. The suspension of two MLAs from the SAD and resignation of Navjot Singh Sidhu from the Rajya Sabha seat and joining of his wife into Congress Party are clear indications of the changed course of political developments in Punjab
The Congress has been gaining political momentum by raising various issues in front of people of Punjab. The nature of the fight has become very clear and political parties are putting their energies and resources into mobilizing their workers to achieve a decisive mandate in the forthcoming 2017 elections. The Congress party is fighting its level best to provide an alternative to the ruling alliance by raising various issues like corruption, underdevelopment and drugs menace in the state. The biggest challenges before the ruling alliance are anti-incumbency and the unresolved issues of the people.
Lure of foreign lands, poor education and drugs have their firm grip on the state’s energetic youth. Part of the blame is also on the state’s failure in generating employment. Privatisation of higher education has resulted in mushrooming of colleges making it easier for students to gain degrees. Sadly, employment generation has not kept pace. The number of jobless has only increased over the years.
The SAD-BJP combine made lofty promises to provide access to education and improve its quality, but its government failed to fulfill most. The education sector has hit the headlines for mostly the wrong reasons multiple scams, irregularities in selections, teachers’ agitation and delay in giving school uniforms during their nine years in power.
Major issue is cancer problem in Malwa region. The absence of affordable healthcare in Punjab forces dozens of cancer patients to travel neighboring state of Rajasthan. During 2012 assembly polls, the Akali Dal had promised to build three cancer hospitals in the state, but the only step in that direction has been the laying of a foundation stone near Chandigarh. Unfulfilled promises made by the state government have resulted in resentment among the voters against the state government. The antiincumbency factor against the SAD-BJP government is high. Sangrur remains the only destination for advanced treatment of cancer. Another mega project coming up is Medicity at Mullanpur near Chandigarh for which the foundation stone was laid by then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in December 2013. However, SAD-BJP government has not honoured its promise of formulating a health policy for the state that is needed to remove the mismatch between diseases prevalent in the state and the Centre’s disease control programme.
Alarming drug menace in Punjab:
Punjab lost a generation to terror between 1980 and 1995 and is now losing another to drugs. The state apparatus from the highest echelons to the lowest functionaries are allegedly deeply entrenched in the production, sale and proliferation of synthetic drugs. The number of drug-related cases being reported from Punjab was disproportionately high and out of the 15 top districts on this count, 13 belonged to Punjab. Nearly 40 cases were being reported from the state every day, which was nearly half of the reported cases in the entire country. Congress raised this issue in Rajya Sabha but reply given by Home Ministry was not even satisfactory. Congress demanded a CBI enquiry into this matter and said that only a probe could bring the truth to light. The AIIMS study report said that out of the 2.77 crore people in Punjab, 2.3 lakh were dependent on opioid (a drug) and 1.23 lakh were dependent on heroin. AIIMS study report has found that opioids worth Rs 7,500 crore are consumed in Punjab every year. Of these, heroin’s share is a massive Rs 6,500 crore. In a startling revelation given that almost all the heroin that comes to Punjab is through the Pakistan border, pumped in by smugglers allegedly aided by ISI. It is this smuggler network that the terrorists who attacked the Pathankot airbase are believed to have used.
However, Security agencies have so far insisted that Pakistani heroin is not consumed in Punjab, it merely passes through to bigger cities like Delhi. But this study - a first of its kind survey by the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) at AIIMS - busts the myth.
Congress Vice President Sh. Rahul Gandhi emphasized that if the Congress government comes to power in the state, the problem will be eradicated within months and that the current state government was turning a “blind eye” to the dilemma. When the Congress party comes to power in the state, action will be taken swiftly and results will be seen within months, as the situation will completely change. There are powerful members of the ruling family of alleged involvement in drug peddling, antipeople activities and political vendetta.
Congress Vice President Sh. Rahul Gandhi was the first political leader who raised the drug menace in Punjab four years ago, and the SAD-BJP Government chose to ignore him and even ridicule him. Sh. Rahul Gandhi said that time, “If Punjab has to progress then it must end this drug menace. There is no other avenue for progress. It appears that the only business which is thriving is the illicit drug trade. Today Punjab is reeling under drug abuse, joblessness, law and order problem, all of which is meshed together in an unholy alliance hurting the common man in the state.”
Sh. Rahul Gandhi said that the Punjab police force removed militancy and terrorism from the State. There are many honest officers who have not been allowed to function. If given the freedom to do their jobs, then they would be able to eradicate the entire drug menace in a matter of month. Sh. Rahul Gandhi further said, “The future of Punjab is being threatened as this drug menace continues unabated. But, I promise to fight for Punjab and for its youth.”
Farmer suicide and agriculture crisis:
Many farmers and agricultural labourers committed suicide in the State due to agrarian distress and indebtedness and State government inaction on this issue. The surveys also revealed that nearly 34 per cent of the victims chose canals to commit suicide. Congress has blamed the Punjab government for farmer’s misery. Congress party has serious concern over suicides by the farmers and farm workers and the unfortunate trend had become unstoppable. Farm incomes grew the fastest from 2004-5 to 2011-12 when it was the UPA in power at the centre that used to take good care of farm sector by appropriate hike in the minimum support prices.
The Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Amarinder Singh made a firm commitment that party will work out a permanent solution for settling the farm debt so that no farmer is forced to take extreme steps like suicide.
He said, “I know it is a difficult task, but I have taken it as a challenge because we can’t keep on watching our farmers kill themselves without doing anything. It is a tragedy that those who fed the whole nation are being left to die in debt and we need to do something”.
SAD-BJP alliance continues to draw flak for the slide in the agriculture sector. With farmers’ incomes going down and land holdings shrinking, the government’s role was reduced to that
of an “intermediary” passing on central grants to cultivators. Its handling of crop failure and other farm related issues has been, unsatisfactory.
The SAD-BJP government got thumbs down from farmers for last year’s whitefly attack on the cotton crop. The agriculture department was criticized for irregularities in purchases and mishandling the situation. As spurious pesticides were supplied, farmers bore the brunt. The scam led to the arrest of then agriculture director Mangal Singh Sandhu. Agriculture minister Tota Singh also faced criticism and was snubbed by his own party. The trade and industry
in the state had also suffered “massive losses” in the past nine years and most of the industrial units were either “shutting down or moving out”.
The BJP-led NDA government at Centre and SAD-BJP led government in Punjab have faced flak for its handling of the agrarian crisis and Prime Minister Narendra Modi “failed” to keep his poll promise to struggling farmers. Congress Vice President Sh. Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly accused the Prime Minister of siding with the corporate sector and ignoring the farmers. Long droughts, poor yields, indebtedness and unseasonal rains are said to be the contributing factors for the rise in such deaths. Sh. Rahul Gandhi’s effort to take up the agrarian distress issue is very daring, futuristic and covers a domain which has been completely ignored by other political parties.
Dalit atrocities in Punjab:
In recent incidents limbs of a Dalit worker were allegedly chopped off at a farmhouse of an Akali Dal leader in Abohar and a young girl was reportedly crushed to death under a bus belonging to a SAD leader at Lambi shows how serious is SAD-BJP government of handling these issues? These incidents showed the prevalence of “jungle raaj” in Punjab. Congress party raised these issues with other political parties in the Parliament and concerned about parallel economy and liquor mafia running in Punjab.
From the border villages in Batala to the leather industry in Jalandhar, demonetisation has stolen the political thunder of polls. From foundry industries in Batala to leather tanneries and packaging material factories in Jalandhar, the smallscale industry has been hit hard by demonetisation.
Affecting by adverse impact on businesses following the demonetisation of old high-value notes, the Chamber of Industrial & Commercial Undertakings (CICU), an industry body of Punjab, has called for protests on December 16. Industries have not been able to give wages to their labour and meet dayto-day expenses because of insufficient currency available with the banks which has dealt a severe blow to the industry. Around 30-35% workforce has left for their homes in other states as the state industry is unable to pay them because banks do not have enough new currency with them to disburse to customers
Punjab’s two prominent industrial clusters hosiery and bicycle faced almost 50% drop in output in view of major slump in demand for woollen and bicycles items, caused by demonetisation of old notes. Industry like steel rolling mills and furnace industry had been hit hard with the demonetisation. The state government as well as the Centre suffered revenue loss of Rs 250 crore since the announcement of demonetisation.
The owners of foundry industries would have to shut down for many days in November 2016 as they do not have money to pay their labourers. In Jalandhar, orders are drying up in tanneries. No fresh order has been placed and the raw material cost has gone up 30% in a week. The large-scale industry is also bearing the brunt. On this issue in Shiromani Akali Dal is desperately trying to show to the electorate that it was a decision taken at the national level and not by it at the state level.
In sum up, viewing the above scenario Congress have strong prospects in Punjab in coming Assembly elections. Congress is raising various issues which are badly affecting common people in Punjab and committed to resolve when coming in to power in the state. Sh. Rahul Gandhi is boosting moral of party leaders and workers by saying, “Congress in Punjab will collectively fight for the future of Punjab, its farmers, Dalits and labourers and change the present government”.