PUNJAB CHIEF Minister Amarinder Singh’s unusually strong attack on his predecessor Parkash Singh Badal, alleging that he was directly responsible for a 2015 police firing on anti-sacrilege protesters in Behbal Kalan, has come as a boost for many in the Punjab Congress who are egging him on to take a strong line against the Akalis.
Amarinder’s accusation, during a gurdwara function at Delhi, drew a sharp response from the Akali patriarch but was greeted with relief among Congressmen who have been uneasy about his perceived chumminess with the Badals, even to the extent of praising them for some of the steps they took during their time in government.
At the July 7 Express Adda and separately at a media conference, Amarinder’s remarks praising the previous government for Amritsar’s makeover, setting up the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Armed Forces Preparatory School and reiteration that Punjab was a surplus power state left several senior Congressmen aghast. “I don’t know what the idea behind all this praise is,” said one senior Congressman.
Another asked why Amarinder was making the previous government look good especially when the election was won on a wave of anti-Akali sentiment. “We raised this issue about how Punjab became a surplus power state several times. Private thermal plants were set up in the state even though there was not much requirement of power. The state pays them sustenance allowance. Our government should have been probing all this instead of giving the previous government a pat on its back. The issue has already reached AICC vice president Rahul Gandhi,” said the leader.
Amarinder’s criticism of the former chief minster came soon after he met Rahul. But there is also a section of Congressmen who say it is healthier politics not to go on witch hunts against the previous government. “I would like to give him the benefit of doubt. During his last tenure, he put the Badal-son-duo behind bars. It was labelled as vendetta politics. The CM does not want to repeat the same,” said one Congressman.
Chief Minister Amarinder too told The Indian Express that he would not spare anyone if found guilty of any wrongdoing but he would not engage in vendetta politics. But a young MLA from Congress said: “We talked about catching big Akalis in the drug trade. Not a single one has been caught. We talked about taking action in food scam. There is not action except the crib that they burdened the exchequer with Rs 31,000 crore. There is no action on anything. We are in a silent mode. It is frustrating.”
Recently, Punjab’s Local Bodies and Tourism Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu has come out with obliquely critical statements about Amarinder’s perceived closeness with the Akalis. Teaming up with Amarinder loyalist, Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Sidhu raised alleged tax evasion by the Badal family linked Fastway Cable network in budget session of the Assembly.
Amarinder’s response that he was inquiring into the matter from the department secretary did not prevent Sidhu from bringing up the issue in the Cabinet meeting although it was not on the agenda. Later, his department issued notices to the cable operators network for evading tax. For those who want to see “action” against the Akalis, Sidhu has emerged as a counterpoint to Amarinder’s more easygoing politics. He has declared he will ensure action against Akalis “for looting the state.” He has said: “I will take action whatever I can. Rest is upto the Chief Minister. If a Vigilance probe is needed then only the CM can order it as it is his department.” Recently, the Tourism Minister was quick to distance himself from a government organised motor rally in the eco-sensitive Shivalik Hills. He said, “I am not organising it. CM wanted it done.”
But while Sidhu also ended up attending the inauguration and flagged off the rally, there were murmurs in the Congress at the manner in which the event was organised,riding roughshod over irrigation and forest department rules. Sidhu has also been seen to be acting unequivocally against the beneficiaries of the previous regime. He has suspended some officials who were given plum posting in the last days of the Akali government, and transferred others.
Amarinder’s media advisor Raveen Thukral said: “The Chief Minister has made his stand amply clear more than once. He has not, and never will, follow the path of political vendetta against his opponents. Whether it is any of his own party leaders or those from opposition parties, he will not penalise anyone on the basis of allegations or media trials. However, if any evidence of financial or other misdeed is found against anyone, whichever political dispensation they may belong to, they will not be spared and will have to pay for their misdemeanours. Captain Amarinder is committed to following the rule of the law in all matters, and will not succumb to any pressure to deviate from the same.”