Less than four months after the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) sweeping victory in the Assembly elections in Punjab, in which it trounced the traditional players that ruled the state for over seven decades by capturing 92 out of the 117 Assembly seats, it is law and order that is emerging as a key challenge for the Bhagwant Mann-led government.
Also the AAP, which came to power with a 10-point ‘Punjab Model’, comprising free electricity and a monthly allowance of Rs 1,000 for every woman above the age of 18, has skipped announcing the timeline for the latter poll promise in its maiden budget of Rs 1.55 lakh crore.
Elated with the AAP’s defeat in the recent Lok Sabha bypoll, and now eyeing the 2024 general elections, the traditionally powerful parties, the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal, have started targeting the ruling party on a vital issue — the ‘crumbling’ law and order amid a terror attack, a communal clash and the killing of famed singer Sidhu Moosewala.
Barely 100 days after sweeping the state polls, the AAP faced a humiliating electoral debacle in the bypoll for the Chief Minister’s Parliamentary bastion Sangrur, owing to the killing of Moosewala, and allegations that the government is being run by ‘remote control’ from Delhi, turning Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann into a ‘rubber stamp’.
With its last week’s defeat, the AAP, which was looking to expand its electoral footprint, lost its lone Lok Sabha seat, which was won by Mann twice with a record margin, to Simranjit Singh Mann of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), the proponent for a separate Sikh homeland, by a narrow margin of 5,822 votes.
“I humbly accept the verdict and I am working day and night with honesty for the progress and prosperity of Punjab and will continue to work harder. I am your son and will spare no effort to brighten the future of your families,” Mann tweeted after the result.
The party blamed the poor turnout as the main reason for its defeat.
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) legislature party leader Manpreet Singh Ayali has accused the government of reneging on its promises by failing to allocate funds to fulfil its promises, including implementation of the Rs 1,000 per month allowance to every woman aged 18 or above.
Participating in the discussion on the state budget 2022-23, Ayali said the women, who had played a big role in the formation of the AAP government, were feeling betrayed. “The government has not allocated any funds for disbursement to women making it clear that the scheme will not be implemented this year.”
He also condemned the government for failing to implement the old pension scheme as promised.
Blaming the government for the complete collapse of law and order, Leader of Opposition Partap Singh Bajwa said even the Chief Minister himself admitted that he has received threat calls.
“Ideally a mature chief minister would not inform the public even if he had actually received a threat call as this will further shatter the confidence of people in the government,” he told the media.
Hailing the tax-free budget of the state government for 2022-23, presented by Finance Minister Harpal Cheema in the Vidhan Sabha on June 27, Chief Minister Mann described it as a roadmap for a New Punjab.
According to Mann, the budget is the people’s budget that has been made to bring a revolution in the sectors of education, health, agriculture and commerce.
Envisioning the budget as a roadmap for the revival of the industrial sector and imparting a fresh impetus to the stagnant agrarian economy of the state, he said the government will soon fulfil all guarantees promised to the people.
The budget is the outcome of the pragmatic approach of the state government to achieve the objective of overall development and progress of the state and prosperity of its people in a holistic manner, said the Chief Minister, who believes that corruption-free governance is at the core of the ethos of the government.
With the launch of an anti-graft helpline just after coming to power, the government has registered 29 cases and 47 arrests have been made.
In an unprecedented action, the Chief Minister announced the sacking of his cabinet colleague from the council of ministers and his subsequent arrest for alleged corruption.
“There is fear among government employees, from a clerk to an IAS officer, after the launch of the anti-corruption helpline that is getting more than a hundred calls in a month with many of them providing useful leads to expose employees who demand bribes,” admitted a senior government functionary.
Saying that the government is committed to fulfil every guarantee promised to the people, the Chief Minister on Friday announced to provide free electricity up to 300 units per month to consumers in all categories.
Also all electricity bills prior to December 31, 2021, will be waived off.
Training his guns at the Opposition, the Chief Minister said the previous governments made tall promises to people during the polls but they were hardly fulfilled in five years.
However, his government has set a new precedent by fulfilling one after another guarantee with every passing day.
Mann assured the people the government is committed to the progress of the state and prosperity of its people within five years — to the point that “youth who went to Canada for employment will return.”
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)