( Date: 31 March 2017 | Jaiveer Shergill | in Daily O )
The famous Greek philosopher Plato had said the beginning is the most important part of the work. The 2017 Punjab verdict has made many new beginnings which are important politically and also otherwise.
The colossal defeat of the SAD-BJP alliance was a cumulative consequence of their mis-governance of the once prosperous state during the last ten years and for consciously pushing the youth of Punjab to a dark future.
The people of Punjab comprehensively rejected the regressive policies of the Badal government. They also rejected the opportunist agenda of the Aam Aadmi Party and their radical design to make Punjab one of the laboratories to pursue their political ambitions.
Even their frontline leaders like Bhagwant Mann and Gurpreet Ghuggi could not save their face. Hopefully, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal will introspect and concentrate on governance in Delhi, giving a pause to his national ambition.
With nearly 40 per cent vote share and 77 seats for the Congress, the voters of Punjab have made their choice very clear and decisive.
This is the beginning of a new dawn in Punjab. The overwhelming support for the Congress in the state has come with a set of responsibilities for the new government. The people of Punjab, particularly the youth, have indicated their trust on the party and it will be the august duty of the new government to rise to their expectations. Gaining governmental power is not the end it would be satisfied with.
Nevertheless, the new government will have its challenges in the form of empty state coffers and mounting debt to the tune of Rs 1.25 lakh crore. Punjab’s debt burden is running at 31.4 per cent of the state’s GDP, the second highest among all states. Therefore, the immediate task will be to revive the fiscal strength of the state by improving revenue and investment.
Cash crunch due to demonetisation has severely affected the farmers of Punjab, particularly those cultivating wheat and potato. The state’s economy and fortune can be revived by dealing with the agrarian crisis effectively. Low farm income, rising indebtedness and subsequent farmer suicides have been a policy concern. Once the breadbasket of India, the state is now famous for farmer suicides.
In 2015, 449 farmers committed suicide. Latest data on farmers’ suicide was held back by the SAD-BJP government because of the elections and when it will be finally released, a much gory picture may emerge. Revival of agriculture in the state is possible by resorting to corrective political action.
Since availability of institutional credit is a major issue in the state, farming sector development could be achieved by scheduling an adequate policy framework for more efficient performance of the rural financial market.
Like agriculture, industry has also been neglected, because of which the state has a large number of unemployed youth. Punjab has a historical advantage of small scale industries and their revival will generate a large chunk of jobs for Punjabi youth. If we can develop a few software parks in the state, they will cater to the aspirations of the educated youth of the state.
Public health and education have nearly collapsed during the last ten years. In June 2016, there was a news report that huge number of students had failed Class 10 exams and a massive 1.12 lakh students were given nothing less than 27 grace marks so that the pass percentage jumped from an embarrassing 39.5 per cent to 72.25 per cent.
This speaks about the state of education in Punjab. A qualitative change in the approach to governance is required to ensure public funding is not merely turned into dole; rather it should promote equity, productivity and competitiveness. At the same time, access to education and health remain affordable and within reach of the common man.
At present, like the transport system, the health infrastructure of Punjab is more private than public. To restore people’s faith, we need to develop policies keeping in mind the people as stakeholders rather than beneficiaries.
Drugs are claiming a huge social cost in Punjab, once counted among India’s most prosperous states. The menace became bigger because of the political patronage of the Badal government. Till the end, the political establishment remained in denial mode. Burying the problem under the sand is not going to help anyone.
To eradicate the problem and to save the future of Punjab, the new government will have to have a comprehensive action plan addressing both demand and supply factors. On the one hand, action is required to be taken to choke the supply channels and on the other hand, sensitisation programmes and preventive health policies are required to address the demand side.
The commitment of the Congress to saving the youth of Punjab from the drug menace will be translated into an action plan and monitoring mechanisms to deal with the issue at the ground level. The state has a competent police force which has proved its mettle by controlling terrorism, and they can control the drug problem as well.
The issue during Badal rule was not control over the drugs problem but over the police force itself. Honest and competent officers were not given key responsibilities, particularly in bordering districts. We need to have the right officers in the right place to achieve the desired goals.
Since Punjab shares a 553km border with Pakistan, we will expect that the central government in Delhi will extend all possible help to control cross-border drug trafficking. The new government is a sign of hope for the youth of Punjab. The year 2017 will mark the revival of the old glory of Punjab.
Politically, the Punjab victory is expected to revive the Congress at the national level. History will repeat itself like in 1980, when Punjab started the revival of the Congress which was followed across the country.
Being a Dad in today’s times has its own demands, responsibilities and most of all joys. Around International Father’s Day in 2016, we had a candid chat with Jaiveer Shergill, a lawyer and the spokesperson for the Indian National Congress, knowing a bit about that part of him, which enjoys being a ‘new-age-Dad’.
How hands-on a Dad are you? How do you manage your successful career along with being a dad?
From the perspective of a traditional father, whose role was limited to providing financial support, I’m a ‘new-age’ dad who changes diapers, feeds breakfast/lunch/dinner and is an equal stake holder, support provider to my wife in terms of raising our daughter Rabiya:-)) According to me, being a new age dad is not an achievement but an actual realization of parenthood where you are fully involved apart from being a mere financial supporter. Also being a new age father makes you respect your partner’s ambitions and her identity beyond a wife and a mother.
With regard to managing time, I believe Time is the most precious gift you can give to your child. Since her birth, everything else has taken a back seat. Despite being a practising lawyer and National Spokesperson of Indian National Congress with a typical 18-hour day, I have drawn clear red lines where 3 days in a week are fully dedicated to spending time with my family because I believe you can never bring back moments you spend with your child. I ensure that I am always there for her when she wakes up, with her in atleast one meal a day and have sufficient play time with her and attempt to cater to her curiosity 🙂
Can you describe a very special moment of being a dad? (When you felt special or, most loved or something that makes you feel that being a Dad is the best thing that has ever happened to you)
Hearing the word ‘papa’ has been the most amazing moments of my life. The fact that her expressions change, even if she senses I am going somewhere, makes me feel the most loved and has been the defining moments of fatherhood.
It’s evident that there’s a paradigm shift in the way Dads parent today vis-a-vis a generation before. How do you perceive this change?
Fatherhood has undergone a drastic change not because men have had a sudden change of heart but because new age women are ambitious, they have an identity beyond being a mother or, wife. New Age mothers are like “wood peckers” nudging their partners/husband to adapt to the new role of fatherhood i.e., providing logistical and emotional support in raising a child so that they can achieve their dreams. So, for a successful marriage, it is vital that today’s fathers shoulder the child raising responsibilities in every sense including changing diapers:-)
If you were to write a message to your son/daughter, which s/he would carry forever, what would it be?
Don’t judge me for all the times I have imposed parental restrictions on you but remember me for the way I loved you unconditionally 🙂 Always watching over you. Love, Papaaaa! 🙂
I love Baby Chakra because…
I love Baby Chakra because it works towards enhancing experience of motherhood and smoothens the entry of a new human life into this practical world 🙂 Secondly and most importantly, Baby Chakra is product of a close friend’s dedication and hard work!
About Jaiveer Shergill:
Born and brought up in Jalandhar, Jaiveer graduated from the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (Kolkata) in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in law. During his stint at the law school, Jaiveer participated in various extra-curricular activities, and was elected as the President of the Student Union. After practising law for a few years in Delhi, Jaiveer went to the UC Berkeley School of Law, University of California, USA, and took a master’s degree in Law. Currently serving as the National Media Panelist for the Indian National Congress Party, Spokesperson of the Punjab Pradesh Congress and Co-Chairman of the Legal Cell, Congress (Punjab). Most of all, he is the father of an adorable little girl, who is a little over a year old.
When asked what was the one thing that he would want to change in the party, a young Congress leader, who is close to party vice president Rahul Gandhi, said he wanted decisions to be taken fast. He was voicing his frustration with the grand old party, which seems to take forever to effect any change.
The party’s good performance in the Bihar assembly elections, however, has yet again given rise to an anticipation of some definitive changes in the party. For the first time after the humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, there is renewed hope of the much-talked-about revival plan being rolled out. The party seemed stuck in a rut in the past one and a half years.
Soon after the Lok Sabha elections, senior leader A.K. Antony was entrusted with the task of preparing a postmortem report on the defeat in the polls. This has become somewhat of a ritual, with Antony preparing a report after every major poll debacle. His report, while outlining the reasons for the defeat and suggesting some remedies, did the primary job of insulating the leadership from any blame. This was crucial at a time when Rahul and his inner circle faced criticism for the defeat and some leaders openly spoke about the need for Congress president Sonia Gandhi staying on at the post.
In the line of fire, Rahul undertook an elaborate exercise of holding discussions with party leaders to figure out the reasons behind the defeat. He met some 300 leaders from all over the country and sought suggestions on what could be done to re-energise the party. The discussions threw up a range of issues. An action plan was readied and discussed by the Congress Working Committee.
In the beginning of the year, Sonia sent letters to party general secretaries and state chiefs, telling them that she was in approval of Rahul’s action plan for revival. But it is yet to be rolled out. In fact, it appeared to have been dropped down in the list of priorities, as a few months ago the CWC decided to extend Sonia’s term as party chief by a year. A revamp of the All India Congress Committee and the state units is learnt to have been put on hold. The organisational elections have been postponed till 2016 and the party has not made any headway in its membership drive.
This development, coming as it did at a time when an active and involved avatar of Rahul had taken centrestage, gave rise to confusion on the leadership issue and the future of the revival plan. Doubts were expressed about any large-scale change happening in the organisation in the near future.
With the Congress giving the credit of the Bihar victory to Rahul, saying he was the architect of the Grand Alliance, there is a renewed clamour for him to take charge as party president. “It is a desire of the Congress workers that Rahulji should become Congress president,” said C.P. Joshi, AICC general secretary.
Congress leaders dismiss talk about Rahul being hesitant to take up the leadership role. At the moment, they say, the Sonia-Rahul duo is working fine for the party, and the timing of Rahul taking over will be decided by him and Sonia. But, there is also a theory that Rahul is not being allowed to get on with his plans because of the resistance from the old guard. Rahul is said to have been upset that his revival plans were seen as an effort to rid the party of the old generation leaders. “It is about the party and not about individuals. The two main things that Rahul Gandhi wants to bring into the party are transparency and accountability,” said a leader who is close to Rahul.
The action plan suggests an organisational revamp and giving a fair chance to those who are loyal to the party ideology, thereby ending the nomination culture. It also recommends elections at all levels. The expectation is that new state chiefs of the party would be appointed soon and young leaders would find place in the AICC. “The impression that he will make his own team and discard old people is wrong,” AICC general secretary Shakeel Ahmad. “He is not the leader of a group but that of the whole party. And, the party is a blend of young and experienced.”
According to Jaiveer Shergill, a Congress leader in Punjab, the recovery from the 2014 debacle had to take place at two levels—to consolidate and motivate the cadre and to take the message to the public. He said it had already started. The young leaders, however, are getting restless at the slow pace of change. Even the changes that Rahul effected in the state units have not been without resistance from the senior leaders. When Haryana’s young PCC chief, Ashok Tanwar, spoke at a rally in Delhi protesting the Union government’s proposed changes in the land bill, he was booed throughout by supporters of former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. It was worse for Partap Singh Bajwa. Rahul had appointed him president of the party in Punjab, but senior leader Amarinder Singh flexed his muscles and threatened to leave if he was not made party chief.
Rahul’s leadership abilities have been tested by rebellions in states like Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. There has been criticism on his handling of the situation in Assam. It is said that the frustration with the attitude of the national leadership made senior leader G.K. Vasan split the party in Tamil Nadu.
There are, however, some bright spots for the Congress, and they lie in the Narendra Modi government making political blunders. There is a sense of satisfaction in the party succeeding in putting the BJP on the back foot on the land acquisition bill. Then the win in Bihar for the Grand Alliance has boosted the sentiments in the party. However, defeats in the assembly elections in the next two years will take that sheen away.
It will be a huge challenge to revive the party in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal even as the number of states ruled by the Congress has been reducing with every round of assembly elections. The party is in power in only nine states—Karnataka and Kerala in south, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh in north and the northeastern states of Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. The next round of assembly elections is unlikely to bring any gain.
The party also faces the danger of being outsmarted by newbies like the Aam Aadmi Party, which relegated it to the periphery in Delhi and threatens to rob it of a victory in Punjab in 2017. “The AAP may not have much in terms of an organisation in Punjab. But, it represents a revolution. For the Congress, it will have to rely on the charisma of one leader. So the choice for the voter will be between a revolutionary idea and the charisma of a leader,” said a Punjab Congress leader.
The Congress has to work out its social support base from scratch. As mentioned in the Antony report and the meetings called by Rahul, it is felt that the party has alienated the Hindu community by what is perceived as “appeasement of the minorities”. The party has to correct this perception. And Rahul, through the issues that he has taken up recently, has made clear his ‘pro-poor, pro-farmer’ tilt.
The plan, at the moment, is that Rahul will continue with his travels across the country and focus on specific issues. “We expect that in the near future, he will come out with an action plan,” said Tanwar. “And, he is already in action mode. He has been going on padyatras. He has been taking up issues of farmers, youth and weaker sections and issues such as land bill.”
While the Congress is playing the role of an active opposition by constantly attacking the Modi government, it will have to do a lot more to pose itself as an alternative. Party leaders are already talking about Mission 2019. Indeed, the party needs to pull up its socks because at stake is its political relevance after 2019.
THE WAY AHEAD
* Congress is comfortable with the Sonia-Rahul arrangement; but young leaders want things to move faster in the party
* With the party giving the credit of the Bihar victory to Rahul, there is a renewed clamour for him to take charge as party president
* The party might go for an organisational revamp, giving a fair chance to those who are loyal to the ideology
* New state chiefs are expected to be appointed soon and young leaders would find place in the AICC
* The party has to find ways to tackle the danger of being outsmarted by the likes of the Aam Aadmi Party in the assembly elections
* It needs to work out its social support base from scratch
* Correcting the perception that the party appeases the minorities is important in winning back Hindu votes
* Rahul is likely to continue with his travels across the country and focus on issues of farmers, youth and weaker sections