( 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.