Amarinders new ally
His own captaincy iffy,Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh has found a new ally in ruling family rebel Manpreet Badal. Facing dissent within the party after the poll rout,Amarinder stumped his detractors by inviting the Manpreet-led four party front,Sanjha Morcha,to join Congress dharnas against the Badal government’s punitive taxation. Manpreet declined the offer citing the notice as too short for his left allies,CPI and CPM. Amarinder was quick to offer to join that morcha’s agitation against taxes,to which Manpreet threw another googly the Congress being a senior party,the captain should first hold a meeting of all opposition parties to build consensus on broader Punjab issues. Amarinder has accepted the offer. Rajinder Kaur Bhattal had recently accused him of bringing shame to the party by bending over backwards to woo someone who had failed to win a single seat.
Filling all gaps
Three ministers down in six months,the Parkash Singh Badal government is facing serious cabinet problems. With Bibi Jagir Kaur,Tota Singh and now Gulzar Singh Ranike gone,the size of the Badal cabinet has been shrinking every two months. But the CM seems reluctant to bring new ministers and has kept with himself these departments with no ministers. So after Tota Singhs unceremonious exit,he also became agriculture minister. After Ranike has gone out,his animal husbandry,fisheries,dairy development and welfare of SC,BC departments too are being looked after by the CM,once again proving to his opponents that one thing they cannot fault him with is stamina to work.
Taxes first,sops later
It is not just the falling numbers of ministers that is making the going tough. The fiscal crisis of the state is deepening month by month. Before it could deliver on any of its poll promises tablets,unemployment allowance,free plots to the landless the Akali Dal held marathon sessions to cajole ally BJP to agree to fresh taxes to generate funds for development. While the levies have whipped up anti-government sentiments in the state and united opposition parties,the Rs 2,000 crore annual inflow from the new proposals approved by the cabinet will not be enough to help Punjab implement its Rs 14,000 crore annual plan,foot the rising subsidy bill and fulfil its poll promises.
Saying no to paddy the water table depleting,the state can no longer afford it. The cash-starved treasury foots a huge power subsidy bill every paddy season to keep the nearly 13 lakh tubewells running. So when Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar came for announcing drought relief,he told Punjab its paddy will not be required once the northeastern states start producing more of it. The state has finally decided to say no to the water-guzzling crop. A fancy diversification programme earlier the state imported citrus variteies from the US had later snowballed into a scam. Now,Punjab is framing a new agricultural policy to promote horticulture,oilseeds and pulses.