The latest resolution by the Punjab assembly in the ongoing political grandstanding over the Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal has exposed the cynicism of the ruling SAD-BJP combine as it positions itself to fight the next elections in the state. It also reveals the desperation of the other parties not to be left behind. The resolution moved by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, pledging never to allow the construction of the canal, was adopted unanimously. His prior remarks in the assembly, that his government would not accept any directive seeking to divest Punjab of its rightful waters, in contravention of international riparian rules, would now seem nothing less than open defiance of the Supreme Court’s direction to the state government on Thursday to maintain the status quo. The ruling came after farmers, helped by Akali Dal and Congress workers, began refilling the canal hours after the House passed the Punjab Satluj Yamuna Link Land (Transfer of Property Rights) Bill, 2016 to return nearly 4,000 acres acquired for the project back to the owners.
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But the SAD believes it is playing this game with a good hand, and is in no mood to listen. The gambit to return the land has already paid off in the Malwa belt, through which passes the canal and, it is said, the road to power in Punjab. Irrespective of how it plays out, the Akalis are much stronger today than they were even a week ago. Badal can now go into the election campaign as the chief minister who fought even the Supreme Court for Punjab, rather than as the politician who presided over an agrarian crisis, a financial mess and the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib.
Indeed, there is every possibility that the election may be closer than scheduled. Now the Congress can only play catch-up, while the AAP, seeking to make its assembly debut in Punjab, has joined this race to the bottom. What is surprising, or perhaps not, is the inaction of the Union government. The SAD is an NDA constituent, but so far the Centre has made no move to restrain it. The state BJP, whose enthusiasm for the alliance had waned due to controversies clouding the SAD’s second term, cannot hide its joy at the sudden turn of the tide, even though neighbouring Haryana, directly affected by Punjab’s shenanigans, is also ruled by the BJP.
Incensed by AAP leader and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s statement that the canal should not be built, Haryana has in turn threatened to turn off the capital’s water supply. The Modi government must stop looking at Punjab through the lens of the next election. It is time it stepped in to defuse the crisis before it leads to a full breakdown in relations between Haryana and Punjab and pulls in other states.