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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Punjab: Fingers burnt last time, AAP picks two Padma Shris for Rajya Sabha seats

Bhagwant Mann has a lot on his plate, with sacking of a minister, Moong push, National Achievement Survey 2021 data.

Written by Manraj Grewal Sharma | Chandigarh |
Updated: May 29, 2022 6:26:54 am
Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann. (Twitter/BhagwantMann)

There is never a dull day in Punjab. This week was no different. While the state was still coming to terms with the imprisonment of former Punjab Pradesh Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and his “torturous” diet plan that has become the latest conversation starter, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann dropped a bombshell with a very public sacking of a senior minister for corruption.

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Vijay Singla, a first-time legislator from Mansa, the hotbed of farmer suicides, and the first minister from the seat in three decades, held the important portfolio of health, an area in which the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government has been promising a revolutionary badlav (change).

The Singla example – he has been sent to judicial custody till June 10 – has evoked both fear and sympathy among party members, with many expressing hushed dismay at the gladiatorial way in which he was sacked. But on the ground, it has given a big boost to the anti-corruption image of the party that will see its first electoral test after coming to power in the June 23 Sangrur bypoll. The parliamentary seat, won by Bhagwant Mann the last two times with margins of over one lakh, fell vacant after he took over as the CM.

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Rajya Sabha and the Baba

But right now, all eyes are on the party’s choice for two Rajya Sabha seats, for which nominations have to be filed by May 31. The party, which had received a lot of flak for choosing “outsiders” to send to Parliament’s Upper House last time, on Saturday nominated two Padma Shris, Sant Balbir Singh Seenchewal and Vikramjit Singh Sahni.

An environmentalist and Padma Shri winner, Seechewal is one of the rare godmen in the state to have made social work, especially looking after the environment, the cornerstone of his spiritual philosophy. He enjoys a large following in the Doaba region and is much-feted for, among other things, successfully cleaning and regenerating Kali Bein, a 160-km-long rivulet in Kapurthala. Considered holy because Guru Nanak Dev is believed to have gained enlightenment after taking a dip in it, the bein had become a dumping ground for industries in the area and was overgrown with weeds when Seechewal started kar sewa (volunteer work) to reclaim it in 2000.

As head of the Nirmal Dera at his village, he had also mobilised his congregation to make motorable roads in Kapurthala. In the past, he had refused a Rajya Sabha offer from the BJP.

Sahni, who founded the Sun Group and runs a business conglomerate, is also an educationist and philanthropist. President of World Punjabi Organisation, Sahney was in the news last year for helping evacuate over 500 Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan.

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Magical Moong

A seat for Seechewal is a push to the Mann government’s claims of being serious about the environment, especially the dwindling groundwater in the state. One of the first agrarian initiatives of his government was announcing Rs 1,500 per acre to farmers for using the direct seeding of rice technique that requires much less water.

The AAP government, which swept 66 of the 69 seats in Malwa, the epicentre of farm agitation in Punjab, is also pushing for diversification to other crops and has announced procurement of moong at a minimum support price, in the first such step in the state. Grown in the gap between wheat harvest and paddy sowing, moong cultivation is expected to boost farmers’ income as well as nurture the soil. The Centre has also promised to procure 4,585 metric tonnes of moong.

The politics of education

On another front where AAP hoped to make an impact, the news that Punjab had topped the National Achievement Survey-2021 of schools, outperforming also Delhi, must have left a tinge of dismay. The party had tomtommed the ‘Delhi Model’ of AAP government in Delhi as one of its major poll promises, with Education Minister Meet Hayer taking a tour of schools in the national capital after AAP formed the government.

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While AAP has stayed mum on the achievement, the Congress that led the previous government understandably crowed about it. But the survey also showed that the Mann government has a good foundation for launching its education reforms.

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