Chandigarh, October 18: Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Ludhiana today made it a point not to disappoint Punjab and Punjabis completely. He accepted the invitation from Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to visit Bathinda saying every request from such senior leader is like an order to him. He was being very grace personified. He would come to lay foundation stone of All India Institute of Medical Sciences that is to come up at a cost of about Rs 1000 crore. The centre is setting up AIIMS in several states. Bathinda is the constituency represented Modi’s cabinet colleague Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal.
Badal made this request to the Prime Minister while welcoming him to Punjab. Badal also referred to the deepening farm crisis with the proposal to set up a panel of experts to suggest remedial measures. He did not talk this time about the implementation of the Swaminathan committee report that had recommended fixing minimum support price of farm produce ensuring 50 per cent profit over and above the cost of production. The report was submitted during the UPA rule and both the BJP and the Akali Dal had promised during the Lok Sabha election to implement it. Modi government later backtracked. This has put leaders like Badal on the defensive.
It may be mentioned that Modi has not taken up any of the major issues concerning Punjab. The Badal government has virtually been forced to raise Rs 31,000 crore as marketing borrowings to cover up the balance under the food procurement account. It is the Reserve Bank of India that had pointed out to the Rs 12,000 crore mismatches under foodgarins accounts about a year back. Of course, this amount has accumulated over the years. But the state government itself has now conceded this mismatch. Opposition has raised question about this huge amount of missing foodgrains. It may be mentioned that entire procurement of wheat and paddy in Punjab is done on behalf of the Food Corporation of India for the central buffer stock.
May be that Modi would shower largesse on Punjab on the eve of election, or his Bathinda visit that is likely to be next month. But then the issue is implementation of what had been promised both by the BJP and the Akali Dal during the Lok Sabha election. In case the Swaminathan report had been implemented, the major gainer would have been Punjab. Suicides by the farmers and farm workers continue unabated.
State Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh is presently concentrating on this section during this 3-day bus tour of the state. He has promised to waive all loans of the farmers, both institutional as well as non-institutional. It is the state government that would settle these loans with the lenders. The Akalis have attacked him for making unrealistic promises. But then Capt Aamrinder Singh had endeared himself to the farming community during his stint as the chief minister as procurement operations during all the seasons had been without hiccup with corruption being the minimum. It may be mentioned that entire foodgrain procurement operation is riddled with rampant corruption from top to bottom. Now there is Rs 31,000 crore evidence. It was Badal who used to be perceived as champion of the farmers. He has lost that claim.
Of course, choice of Ludhiana as a launching pad for SC/ST micro entrepreneurship hubs is strategic keeping in view the fact that the Dalits constitute a little more than 32 per cent of the population in Punjab but lack a forceful voice to intervene in the political discourse. The launching of the industrial hub can be seen as an effort at appeasement of this community.
Dalits in the Malwa villages in Punjab have been struggling for their legitimate rights over shamlat land but the state government has been of little help. One-third of the shamlat land in the villages under cultivation is supposed to be auctioned to Dalits. However, Dalits are demanding the same at a reserve price. Presently, Dalits are used as a cover by landed people to grab this land.
In case Modi has written off Punjab, then it is a different issue. However, with the Akali Dal being the alliance partner of the BJP since 1996, Modi is expected to come to the rescue of beleaguered Badal who would not like to taste defeat after being the chief minister for a record five terms. For the third time, he is pleading with the voters to make him victorious saying this would be his last election.