Putting a cursory glance over the policies and functioning ofthe SAD-BJP Government in Punjab during the three years of its mis-rule, one could easily hold that the Badal-SAD govt. has proved to be another regime that could prove every bit as monstrous.
After seeing the present government, no difference between the Congress Govt.headed by Beant Singh and SAD-BJP Govt. led by Parkash Singh Badal comes to sight.Both the governments have proved anti-people, anti-human rights and a government promoting one’s family interests. With a record number of scams, scandals and cases of rampant corruption in the Administration and even at Ministerial level and first ever situation of total bankruptcy in the state since the SAD-BJP Govt. took charge, Parkash Singh Badal has exposed his intentions and backed out from the pre-poll promises made to the people of the State. Tragic indeed, People were once again befooled, but this time by their own men. Badal’s whimsical le of blunders committed by the Badal Govt. in the last three years is a case of total betrayal. Even the repeated warnings of “Perform or perish” given by the people in the form of volatile mandate against the Badal Govt. in assembly election in Adampur in 1998 and Parliamentary elections in 1999 also failed to bring him closer to reality. It would not be gainsaying the fact that the next two years may bring a revival of terrorism of unimaginable magnitude in the State and the everlasting downfallof the Shromani Akali Dal and the Badal family.
On the basis of pre-poll promises of withdrawing all cases under TADA and release of detenues languishing in jails, end of Police Raj, holding inquiries into the causes and effect of terrorism in the State, punishing the guilty police officials and a government free from corruption and self interest, the Sharomani Akali Dal bagged over-whelming majority in 1997. Had the Akalis been sincere to their commitment from the begining, withdrawl of TADA cases against all the detenues who are languishing in jails would have been ordered. But instead, TADA cases were withdrawn only against 31 politicians including the Chief Minister himself and former SGPC President,Gurcharan Singh Tohra in March 1997 much to the disenchantment of poor prisoners. The cause of human rights in the State has been kept in abeyance since the day Mr.Parkash Singh Badal took oath as Chief Minister of Punjab while tainted police officers toy with crisis of their own creation. The Chief Minister even went out of his way to emphasize his debt to the cruel men of his force and exonerated all policemen responsible for killing hundreds of innocent Sikh youth in false police encounters, summary executions and even made them dis-appear for ever. He stirred a hornets’ nest by giving the slogan of “the past ought to be forget and buried” which evoked strong protests from every corner, especially the human rights lobby. Agitation and mass movement was built to force the party to fulfill pre-poll promises made by it. But not even a single policeman in Punjab has been brought to book during the long spell of three years of Akali rule. This soft stance of Badal encouraged the ruthless Punjab policemen to continue with their onrush of atrocities on poor people, resulting in more than fifty custodial deaths in 1997, seventy two in 1998 and thirty two in 1999. The Punjab State Human Rights Commission constituted by the State govt. under tremendous pressure from the human rights activists also failed to make their presence felt. The lackadaisical approach of the Judges of the Commission made its functioning redundant. It always accepts the police version as a gospel truth and dismisses complaints of victims on flimsy grounds. Many cases of custodial deaths were simply dismissed for lack of evidence.
Kith and kin of the Chief Minister and his favourite Akali leaders found special favour from the government for pocketing various political posts. The trend was set into motion by the Chief Minister himself when he succeeded in inducting his son Sukhbir Badal as Industries Minister in the Centre in 1997, followed by his nephew Manpreet Badal, as MLA and recently his son-in law Adesh Partap Singh Kairon as Cabinet Minister in his ministry. His brothers-in-law Gurpreet Singh and Inderjit Singh were made Sarpanches of two panchayats after carving out a new panchayat named Bhai Harjoginder Nagar. Toeing the path, Mr.Sikander Singh Malooka, a Cabinet Minister got his son Gurpreet Singh, Balwinder Singh Bhunder, an M.P. got his son Balraj Singh Bhunder ,Baldev Singh Khaiala, a Cabinet Minister got his son Nirmal Singh Khaila inducted as director of Central Co-operative Banks. Senior Akali leader Jagdev Singh Talwandi got his son Ranjit Singh as Chairman of Punjab Mandi Board, which he continued to occupy even after his conviction for life in a murder case. Even the younger son of Jagdev Singh Talwandi was gifted with Chairmanship of another corporation. Dissention started brewing within the party for distribution of all political posts to the near and dear ones of the Chief Minister. In 1998 even Harsimrat Kaur, the daughter-in-law of Chief Minister, and wife of Sukhbir Badal, created a flutter in administrative circles in Faridkot, when she summoned and misbehaved with deputy commissioner and other senior police officials. According to media reports, Badal’s putra-moh was one of the reason for the miserable defeat of SAD in the Parliamentary elections in 1999.
Political interference in religious matters of the Sikh community by the Akalis witnessed many unpleasant happenings in the last three years. Meddling into the religious affairs, the Chief Minister stirred a hornets’ nest when he got his first opponent Gurcharan Singh Tohra removed from the Presidentship of Shromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee followed by the sacking of Bhai Ranjit Singh, the daring Jathedar of Akal Takht on April 28,1998 and installation of Giani Puran Singh as the new Jathedar on February 15,1999. These events furiated not only the two leaders, but also the entire Sikh community, who took it as an attack on their religious freedom and saw a traitor in Badal. This development ultimately led to the un-precedented loss of vote bank of Akalis in the rural areas. Gurcharan Singh Tohra had rightly warned Mr.Badal of revolt from within if he continued with his policy of self-interest. After routing almost all the Parliament seats in the General elections in 1999, Mr.Badal or his loyalists may blame Tohra or Bhai Ranjit Singh for their defeat, but for the masses, it was a fatwa against unwarranted interference by politicians in their religious affairs. Lowering the sanctity and respect of the highest temporal Institutions by installing Bibi Jagir Kaur and Bhai Puran Singh as the President of S.G.P.C. and Akal Takht respectively in a most obtrusive manner, raking a controversy during the ter-centenary celebrations of the Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib in April, 1999 by dividing the Sant Samaj, also evoked strong public resentment. More than a hundred crore rupees have allegedly gone down the drain and ostensibly distributed among the corrupt politicians and religious leadersfor bringing a new life to Anandpur Sahib. What good all this tantara did to the people, is any body’s guess. Putting Baba Darshan Singh of Dhakki Sahib Dera in Distt.Ludhiana in jail for months and the failure of the State Govt. in arresting the accused persons who set the dera on fire in December, 1999 gave a blow to the reputation of Shromani Akali Dal .
It was perhaps, for the first time in history that the State exchequer became empty and bankruptcy was deckared in the State in December 1998. This grim fiscal scenario badly affected the wheels of development in the State. So tight is the situation that even the Govt. has no money to pay salaries to its employees and funds for running essential services like Transport ,education and medical services. Among the many reasons for this state of bankruptcy as explained by the experts were, slow infrastructural development, increasing direct and indirect subsidies to many sectors, falling rate of growth of tax and non-tax revenues and abolition of important local taxes in order to please the business class. The employees did not get their salaries for months, state transport buses failed to come on road due to non-availability of oil, Schools came on the brink of closure with teachers without salaries and buildings in dilaphilated condition, pensioners cried for their pension. Even the High Court of Punjab & Haryana made it clear that a total restrain order on the payment of salary to the employees of higher strata would be passed unless the State govt. pays salary to its Class IV employees. Inspite of this crisis, it was informed by Finance Minister of Punjab in the Vidhan Sabha that a total sum of Rs.12 crore is incurred every month for maintaining the vehicular and security needs of the Ministers and MLA’s. On account of State’s failure to pay salary to its employees and creditors for many months, the state govt.found itself in a quandary with many govt. buildings and moveable properties brought under court attachment. The MARKFED, Punjab even decided to mortgage their building in order to clear off their debts. Inspite of Court’s order for one car-one officer policy, every corporation and department of the State still keeps more than four cars putting heavy burden on the State exchequer. The Cavalcade of the Chief Minister, himself included about a hundred govt. cars in the Parliamentary elections in 1999 during election rallies at Faridkot in support of his son Sukhbir Badal. The expenses incurred by his loyalists on their travelling could be well imagined.
Trapped in a precarious debt, hundreds of farmers committed suicide across the state, leaving a trail of suffering to the bereaved families. A recent study based on the detailed investigations conducted by two eminent social scientists, Dr.Mehar Singh Mamick and Dr.K.Gopal Iyer, into the circumstances which led the poor farmers to commit suicide in Punjab, tells a disturbing story. During their investigation stretched upto twelve villages in Sangrur and related belt, it was found that of the 80 farmers who committed suicide, 62.5 % were cultivators, 31.25% were agricultural labourers and rest 5.25 % were engaged in non-agricultural occupation. A majority of farmers were small landless agriculturists who could not even pay off the lease money to the landowners and the bank loans due to less crop produce and insignificant price of the produced crop. Ironically, the State Govt. did not even found a word to console the bereaved families. Instead, the policy of the govt. in levying huge taxes, octroi and increase in the price of the fertilizers, diesel and other items virtually broke the back of the farmers. The policies of the State Govt. including that of free electricity to agriculture sector, benefited only big landlords and proved to be a curse for the small agriculturist. The common man was the worst sufferer with increased bus fares, black-marketing of essential commodities and rampant corruption at every level of the government affecting their right to life. Today, Govt. jobs are available at a price and transfer and promotions have become a source of income for the Ministers and even the kith and kin of the Chief Minister. From a Village Patwari to a Minister of cabinet rank in Punjab Govt. and even the Chief Minister, his son and wife have been accused of amassing huge wealth through corrupt means. The agenda of the SAD promising a corruption free-government seems to have been kept in abeyance by the very persons who promoted it tooth and nail. Every govt. servant blames the system in which a subordinate pays bribe for getting a job and demands bribe in return. No body appears to be interested in finding a solution to the question that, what’s the fault of a common man who approaches the administration for getting justice?
The level of education in government institutions has reached a rock bottom level with inadequate funds for appointing qualified teachers and constructing buildings. According to a report submitted by Education Secreatary of Punjab in the Punjab State Human Rights Commission during the hearing of a complaint of human rights violation of govt.school students in Punjab, more than five hundred and eighty five school buildings have been declared unsafe and at present more than two thousand vacancies of teachers, head masters and other staff exist in govt.schools. Inspite of so many vacancies, thousands of ad-hoc teachers were shunted out by the Punjab govt. which furiated them and even one teacher sacrificed his life during the three month long agitation in Chandigarh. The decision of Punjab govt. in de-recognising Registered Medical Practitioners also evoked great public annoyance and agitation. The problem of un-employment would have been easily overcome by accomodating qualified teachers in govt. schools where vacancies already exist, but the State govt. appears to be more interested in becoming a part of the problem rather than finding a solution.
There has not been any change in the law and order problem in the State. Roaming in a public place with yellow turban and loose beard is seen with suspicion even today. There is no change in the attitude of the Punjab police towards the sikhs. About two thousand youth have been falsely implicated in militancy-related crimes since the Akali rule. This statement is corraborated by the report of Additional Director General of Police, Punjab attached with the Punjab State Human Rights Commission. The then D.G.P. of Punjab police Mr.P.C.Dogra had ordered that all the human rights activists and other persons highlighting their misdeeds should be implicated in the case of attempt to kill VVIP’s in the State. Even today, newspapers prominently quote police officers saying as having busted a suicide gang of militants attempting to kill the Chief Minister or other VVIP’s and show recovery of huge quantity of RDX and other explosives. After investigation by different human rights groups, all these claims prove to be a figament of imagination and total failure of control over corrupt police force in the State. Mr. P.C. Dogra even went to the extent of claiming that certain terrorists groups had planned to put cyanide in the water supply in the State, without realizing that Cyanide when mixed into water becomes harmless. While the Chief Minister aptly visits the house of every soldier of Punjab killed in the Kargil conflict in Kashmir, he has no time to say even a word to console the bereaved families of innocent people killed in police custody or false encounters. His govt. has to cough out at least fifty lacs rupees in compliance of the orders of National Human Rights Commission for killing or torturing innocent citizens in police custody. Awefully, the murder of justice saw no bounds in this state of saints and the every member of the jumbo ministry of Shromani Akali Dal-BJP, mocking at it unmoved from every loss of life in the State.
Mis-use of official machinery during Parliamentary elections in the State broke all records of even Beant Singh led Congress regime. Perhaps, it was also the reason why the people rejected the Shromani Akali Dal during every subsequent election in the State. The people had expected a government free from corruption, and a government which would heal their old wounds by punishing all those police officers responsible for killing their near and dear ones. Releasing all innocent people detained under TADA for long, adoption of people-friendly policies and giving a transparent governance are the burning questions of the time which do not fall in the govt.’s agenda for the moment. But the explanation of Mr.Badal after his tragic defeat in Parliamentary elections in 1999 that “people had more expectations from his government” is a statement born out of desperation. His claim of a government with a “mission” and “vision” has proved to be an illusion. From what has gone in the State during the three years of mis-rule, one could aptly judge that the mission of the Shromani Akali Dal is to promote self interest, grab as much money as one could and to put every person behind bars who dares to speak against the wrong policies of the govt. Making Sikhs enslaved and poor to the majority class , by hitting economically is the vision of the Shromani Akali Dal today. Mr.Badal has forgotten that his guide viz.. Atal Bihari Vajyapee and L.K.Advani won’t be able to sail him out of this critical situation and the people of the State are prepared to write the obituary of Shromani Akali Dal in the elections at the cost of peace and prosperity in the State.