The 2016 was a tumultuous year for Punjab in more ways than one. While the year started with a series of high profile murders, it was tempered with completion of high profile projects and schemes and is set to end with a race to power among various political parties in the run up to the assembly elections.
The year will also be remembered for the hectic development activity unleashed by the SAD-BJP government which witnessed the completion of various milestone projects be it the international airport at Mohali, Guru Ravi Das memorial at Khuralgarh in April, domestic airport at Bathinda in December, first of its kind Busopolis (all in one bus terminus in December) establishment of the single largest power plant at one location in Mansa in October, inauguration of the second phase of the iconic Virasat-e-Khalsa at Anandpur Sahab in November, Jang-e-Azadi memorial at Kartarpur in November, War memorial at Amritsar in October, and even launch of an amphibious bus at Harika Pattan in Amritsar in December this month.
The launch of the water bus was in itself a statement of intent by Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal who was trolled for making a boast in this regard during a rally when he claimed water buses would start running in State canals. Sukhbir rubbed it in at the launch, saying he had also claimed he would construct roads which even bombs would not be able to destroy while pointing out to the new cement roads coming up in the state at a cost of 32,000 crore.
This is not all. This year will be remembered for the first serious attempt by any government to usher in good governance by removing the gap between the authorities and the citizens. More than 2000 Sewa Kendras have been opened throughout the State in November to facilitate citizens who want various approvals and documents from the government. They follow the establishment of Sanjh Kendras which allow citizens to lodge their complaints and FIRs and even track them without going to a police station.
Amritsar and Bathinda got a push like never before. In the case of Amritsar, the entire area around the Darbar Sahab underwent a makeover in October. This includes the creation of a Partition Museum, a Plaza and an Interpretation Centre, a Heritage Street with iconic statues besides an awe inspiring entry gate to the holy city. It has also been earlier granted an IIM as well as a horticulture institute and recently even hosted the Heart of Asia international conference. Bathinda saw rapid development, be it roads and flyovers or establishment of the Central University and recently the inauguration of an AIIMS wing by the Prime Minister.
The last very push by the SAD-BJP government has also witnessed provision of near cent per cent water and sewerage facilities to all 165 towns in the State. It has also tried to woo farmers by passing the Punjab Indebtedness Settlement Bill in November which has resulted in the establishment of Tribunals to deal with all disputes arising out of debts taken by farmers. The government has also waived off interest on crop loan for farmers and increased compensation for crop damage besides giving out a few lakh tube well connections. This coupled with populist measures like establishment of free medicine shops and laboratories, distribution of more than 4.50 lakh cycles and giving permanent employment to 30,000 contractual employees are among other steps taken in the run up to the polls to woo voters.
But law and order took a hit in 2016.
While all these are positives which have benefitted the citizen, the same cannot be said of the law and order situation in Punjab this year which severely embarrassed the SAD-BJP government and gave the impression that it was not in full control of the situation. The State, which was rocked by a series of sacrilege incidents of the Guru Granth Sahab last year, witnessed the desecration of the holy Koran this year in Malerkotla in which case an AAP legislator from Delhi was arrested on charges of engineering the desecration. This was followed by a series of high profile murders including that of Mata Chand Kaur, the mother of Uday Singh, the head of the Naamdhari sect, which controls 6,000 acres of prime land near Ludhiana in April. The case has been referred to the CBI. This was followed by the killing of Brig Jagdish Gagneja, the deputy chief of the RSS at Jalandhar by motor cycle borne assailants in September. This case has also been referred to the CBI.
There were also atrocities against dalits. What was galling was a series of atrocities against dalits. One twenty year old youth — Bhim Tank had his limbs chopped off by the gang of a liquor contractor in Abohar late in the year. The youth was alive when he was found and died on the way to hospital. This was closely followed by another case involving liquor smugglers this year. A youth, Sukhchain Singh, was killed and his limb chopped off. In both cases the perpetrators of the crime were accused to be close to
AAP: On the political front, the year will be remembered for the tempering of the wave of (AAP) in Punjab politics. The party and its leader Arvind Kejriwal are no longer in the same position they were at the start of the year when the party looked poised to win the next assembly election. The party suffered its first set back when it took a contradictory stand on the SYL canal. While Kejriwal said Punjab did not have any water to spare during a visit to the State, his government filed an affidavit asking for construction of the SYL canal. The party also suffered by failing to anoint a chief ministerial candidate in Punjab and gave out an impression that Kejriwal was in the running for this post.
Putting up senior leaders like Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann and Himmat Singh Shergill against Mr Sukhbir Badal and Revenue minister Bikram Majithia from Jalalabad and Majitha has further strengthened this claim as senior leaders have been fielded in seats where they have no standing and have to rely on the AAP name alone. The manner in which senior leader and party State Convenor Suchha Singh Chhotepur was forced out of the party and the nomination of a former comedian Gurpreet Ghuggi as its Convenor has not helped matters. A number of leaders have abandoned the party and all of them have alleged that AAP leaders from outside the State, who are in command here, are indulging in corruption. Kejriwal is trying to stem the rot but recently he was even hooted at by his own party men during a rally indicating the party is slipping.
CONGRESS — In case of the Punjab Congress, it seems party strategist Prashant Kishore has finally made the party move and created an atmosphere to get the most from party State President Capt. Amarinder Singh. The party has gone in for various kinds of brand building campaigns like Coffee with Captain and Halka (constituency) vich Captain. While the success of such branding is suspect, what has been a sure fire hit are proposals like offering a loan waiver to farmers which has had lakhs of farmers filling forms. Similarly the youth have been promised smart phones and an unemployment allowance. Besides this the party has successfully occupied the space which was occupied by AAP and its emerging as the principal opposition to the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). However going into the polls, the party is a little shaky as it is caught in a catch 22 situation and does not know what to do with the Akali rebels it has inducted into the party, following a campaign started by Congressmen, to keep them out of the ambit of ticket selection.
Shiromani Akali Dal: As for the SAD, the party is going for a near make over to buck the anti incumbency trend. While the party has worked admirably as far as connecting to the grass roots is concerned, it is hit by anti incumbency due to issues like corruption, sand and gravel mafia operations, menace of drugs and even centralisation of all power in the Badal (Chief Minister P S Badal) family. The party has gone in for a massive change in its candidates with more than 50 changes being affected in candidates. It is hoping these changes as well as the development work done by it will bear fruits.
Govt continued to battle the scourge of drugs.
The government continued to battle the scrouge of drugs. Though it has been able to put this issue on the back burner by taking on this menace aggressively, including testing all four lakh youngsters opting for police recruitment for drugs, earlier allegations of SAD links with drug smugglers did damage the SAD. The issue was also portrayed in a film Udta Punjab in mid year. Though the film did not get any traction in the State, drugs continues to be a big issue in Punjab politics.
Political victory over SYL issue.
The SAD-BJP alliance scored a political victory on the issue of Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal. Chief Minister P S Badal played a bold gambit and got a resolution passed by the Punjab Assembly to return all land acquired for the canal to the farmers in early November. This process has been completed. The SAD had also taken the issue to the people by getting lakhs of people to join a signature drive on this issue besides holding a massive rally at Moga on December 8 as a show of strength.