The latest Punjab Assembly election earlier this year was perhaps the most significant election since the formation of the Punjabi Suba, or post-reorganisation Punjab. Punjab went through a phase of extreme angst and pain for which the government and the opposition were both equally to blame as neither placed the interests of the state above their own.
The worst opportunism was seen in painting Punjab as the "drug capital of the world.” Those who did so are now the guardians of Punjab’s pride. In four weeks, Punjab will be declared drug free. Punjab will believe it, just as it had last month believed that it was the worst drug addict in the world.
But in the larger interests of the state, it is time to move on and away from petty blame game and alibis for failure and defeat. Both the government and the opposition – AAP and the SAD-BJP – must start afresh and not get bogged down in unseemly political bouts that serve no one’s interest except of some petty squabblers and self-seekers. Both sides would do well to keep such "advisors” at bay and follow a policy of constructive engagement.
I feel that the second tenure of Captain Amarinder Singh has hardly begun the way his last stint took off in 2002. So far he has said nothing that he should not be saying as Chief Minister and that is a good early sign. He is staying clear of confrontationism. Amarinder is now mature by a full 15 years since he was first enthroned in 2002. He was an ambitious and excited and "youthful” 60 years of age then, and he is now 75. As the good Bard said, ripeness is all.
Amarinder is important to this discussion because this election was all about him. It is his victory, and if he is not taking all the credit, it is his modesty. He has hit the ground running this time and has made an impeccable choice of officers so far. This means that he is willing go beyond the legacy of confrontation and is focusing on delivering on his promises.
It is not easy to fulfil those promises and I will be hugely surprised if he is able to fulfil even some of these though I will be happy to be proven wrong. Nevertheless, his picks have been on the mark. Suresh Arora as police chief means there will be very little focus on vendetta. Karan A Singh, who is sans any swagger, heads the civil services in Punjab, so it is likely that postings and transfers will be on merit. Tejveer Singh, the new Chief Minister’s Principal Secretary, is a very bright young man, but will he be allowed to work effectively is something that remains to be seen.
But an exceptionally brave and unprecedented decision has been to put Suresh Kumar at the top of the bureaucratic mountain as Chief Principal Secretary to CM in the emoluments though not the rank of Cabinet Secretary to the Government of India.
Personally, I do not like this new and out of box arrangement because it can lead to confusion in command about the effectiveness and role of the Principal Secretary to CM and even the Chief Secretary, but the advantages, too, will be significant. For the first time, the head of the Civil Service in the state would report to someone other than the Chief Minister, a de facto Chief Minister. How good that is, only time will tell.
The best thing – and perhaps the only good thing – about this arrangement is the person chosen to man it. Suresh Kumar is not only vastly experienced but has an unimpeachable reputation for uprightness. Few in this government can beat him in elocution and making impressive presentations. Beyond that, I have my reservations.
To me, the arrangement smacks of governor’s rule with an advisor to boot. How relevant will the people’s representatives remain? That is a test for Suresh Kumar to pass. I know the CM’s team has been handpicked by Suresh Kumar and that will ensure harmony. Yet, the arrangement itself is too untested to inspire faith.
I hear that K R Lakhanpal, a sharp, outspoken and a functioning visionary, is also being inducted into the system at a key position. That will make it one cracker of a team for the new Chief Minister. I am also watching with interest who his advisor on information will be and how much will he be allowed to breathe by a zealous bureaucracy.
The message one gets after the government’s first few decisions has had a positive impact, but sweet as these decisions sound – "drug addicts will be treated with compassion!” – Captain Singh would be the first to agree that most of these "decisions” are anything but "decisions” - mere declarations of intent. Nothing practical has so far been announced on any of his key promises, including employment to 30 lakh youth, waiver of farmers' debt etc. I am very suspicious of the move to hide inaction behind committees. If they had wanted to, they could simply have taken a cabinet decision on loan waiver and filling of vacancies and then left its implementation to officers and experts.
All the data they needed on farmers’ debt and on unemployment is already available with Suresh Kumar himself. They are going about it the other way round. Not impressed. But one could argue that the government is not even a week old yet and it is not fair to judge its performance so early. And that’s a fair argument. Captain is too seasoned a leader to make the mistake of writing off the Akalis. One also hopes he wouldn’t be hyper in his responses to well-meaning criticism. The initial signs from the palace are not bad, but again, it’s too early yet.
*(The author, a freelance journalist, has served as Advisor on National Affairs to former CM, Parkash Singh Badal. Needless to say, the views expressed herein are personal. Punjab Today invites feedback on any points raised by the author.)