The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lame duck tag on Amarinder

Chandigarh, Aug. 30: When he took over as chief minister on February 27, people of Punjab heaved a sigh and prepared for relief from too much corruption in government and political interference in religious affairs. Six months down the line, Amarinder Singh’s promise of a clean administration and drive against corruption has fizzled out.

His principal secretary is allegedly involved in a recruitment scandal and Amarinder is being accused of being a lame duck chief minister.

The much-hyped $1 billion loan from the controversial International Finance Consortium and the Rs 2 crore that went missing after being seized from suspended Punjab Public Service Commission chairman Ravinder Pal Singh Sidhu’s lockers cast a cloud over the government. The transfers of top intelligence officials for making the missing money issue public confirmed the suspicions.

The reform-oriented budget is not being implemented. The bureaucracy is being pampered like never before and employees are on warpath over disinvestment recommendations.

Only the police seem to be benefiting with an array of sops.

On stopping free power for agriculture, the government is yet to take a decision fearing largescale unrest. The Punjab State Electricity Board is bankrupt but no decision has yet been taken to haul it out from the red. The board has recommended that free power be withdrawn but the government continues to dilly-dally.

The thrust is now on the amount of subsidy to be provided to the power sector — full or 50 per cent.

While former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has welcomed the move to eradicate corruption, he has opposed the rollback of free power to farmers. Badal has said there would be “war” in Punjab if free power goes and has termed the rollback as “betrayal of the worst kind”.

Another glaring failure of the Amarinder government has been its inability to take into confidence the Opposition or even its allies on sensitive matters. State CPI chief Joginder Dayal recently described Amarinder as the “most incompetent chief minister”. The party had fought the last Assembly poll together with the Congress.

The chief minister’s total dependence on bureaucrats is showing in the government’s inability to tackle political problems politically.

“Everything that is being done is being controlled by a handful of bureaucrats. Their remedy is to jail political opponents on the slightest pretext. That is why, more and more Akali leaders are facing vigilance probes and not the CBI. The Punjab Public Service Commission recruitment scandal should have been handed to the CBI for investigations. But the chief minister wanted to rake political mileage out of it and got his own police force to probe. That way, the Congressmen involved have been allowed to get away,” a disgruntled senior bureaucrat lamented.

Though six months cannot be taken as a yardstick of a government’s performance, there is nothing to suggest the direction Punjab will take in the next four-and-a-half years.

“Policies are being publicised only to be buried the next day. Industry, the farm sector and employees are unhappy. Decisions are taken and forgotten. The chief minister spends most of his time on the state aircraft, in New Delhi or the US, partying with his advisors and close bureaucrats. Punjab is heading for troubled times,” warned Akali legislator Manpreet Badal.

“With growing intolerance of Sikhs towards the cult of self-styled ‘holy men’ in Punjab and the resentment against his regime in the rural areas, Amarinder would do well to begin running the state politically rather than administratively,” a Congress legislator quipped.

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