Punjab sees political equations changing

Punjab sees political equations changing

In Haryana, strike hit Indias biggest auto brand, while Team Anna campaign defeated Cong in Hisar

As Punjab looks forward to Assembly elections in about four weeks from now, the year that went by not only marked the last leg of the incumbent regime but also brought out some formidable political connotations altering the political canvass in this border State.

In neighboring Haryana, the ‘labour pains’ at country’s largest automobile manufacturer in Gurgaon hogged the limelight.

For once, leading political parties in Punjab - the incumbent SAD–BJP combine and the Congress - are left to worry beyond their staple political adversaries. The change on the political landscape of this border State this year, with the emergence of a formidable third front alternative, provided a glimpse into what could alter political arithmetic in Punjab headed for polls in January end.

For the first time, various political parties - the CPI, CPM, former Tamil Nadu Governor S S Barnala-led SAD (L) and the homegrown PPP led by Manpreet Badal, the estranged nephew of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, came on one political platform. The Congress and SAD-BJP may declare the front to be redundant, but it remains to be tested. Political observers say the collective voter percentage of the “third front,” if not so much the unlikely number of seats it wins, could upset prospects of candidates in several seats. Judgment day on January 30 will lock the fate of many, until then, the war is on.

Right to Service Act

Beyond the political rhetoric, the Badal government ushered in a phase of some people-friendly governance reforms in 2011. Punjab’s version of the citizens’ charter was the enactment of the Right to Service Act. The perceptible part of the model was the decision to put in place an apparatus that promises to reign in the arguably infamous Punjab police. Of the 67 public services covered by the Act, at least 20 services will have to be rendered by police to citizens within the stipulated timeframe. Failure to do so invites action under provision of the Act.

Cricket bonhomie

The off-field bonhomie in Mohali during the India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final match this March promised to defrost whatever little is left between the two nations. Prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani met on the sidelines of the match, which India won. Although it may not have resulted in much of discernible change in the relations between the two countries, what is brought was freedom for “Indian spy” Gopal Dass after languishing in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail for 27 years.

Saffron blues

This was something last the ruling alliance in Punjab expected at the fag end of its term. Akali Dal’s ally, the BJP, rode on controversies  of graft one after the other. Its chief parliamentary secretary Raj Khurana was arrested on corruption charges by the CBI.

After four years, the BJP high command effected a reshuffle of its sitting ministers, axing its topmost leader of the legislative group and industry minister Manoranjan Kalia.

Transport minister Master Mohan Lal and Social security minister Swarna Ram too were removed from his post. The decision, sources both within the saffron part and SAD say, has left the BJP’s graph on a downslide.

Vote to unshorn Sikhs

Towards the yearend, the Punjab and Haryana High Court passed a significant judgment restoring rights of Sehejdhari Sikhs (unshorn Sikhs) to cast vote in the elections of the SGPC - a body which manages majority of Sikh shrines in the country. The ruling came as a setback for the SAD (Badal) at a time when the party was rekindling its time-tested religious Panthic agenda to polarize Sikh voters ahead of elections. The Court struck down a 2003 notification approved during the NDA regime that stripped Sehajdhari Sikhs of their voting rights in SGPC elections.

Bridling NRI groom

The misery of seeing daughters and sisters live in pain on being deserted by their NRI husbands is a common grief scores of families in Punjab share. The rot was addressed this year, and firmly. The Passport Office in Jalandhar in Punjab impounded passports of several dozen NRI grooms who deserted their brides. The office made use of a seldom used provision that exists in the Passport Act, perhaps for the first time in the country, to help deserted brides. According to the National Commission for Women and Ministry of Women and Child Development, of the 30,000 women deserted by NRI husbands, 15,000 are from Punjab’s Doaba region alone.

Maruti madness

The unrelenting bouts of labour unrest at the country’s largest automobile manufacturing plant in Manesar in Gurgaon not only hogged limelight but also raised more questions than were answered after Maruti Suzuki decided to start a car unit in Gujarat. Three bouts of strikes after June this year left Maruti suffering colossal loses, delayed deliveries of its premium brands and arguably a tarnished reputation. The strike erupted over the demand from employees for a separate union at the Mansar plant. It found support from a host of labour unions and political parties that only made matters difficult for Maruti to sort out. 

Anna mania in Hisar

A small and relatively unimportant parliamentary constituency of Hisar in Haryana caught the attention of the nation this year, even as the outcome of the election here was of little significance. What had all glued to Hisar was the open declaration by Team Anna to oppose the Congress candidate in the elections, Jai Prakash, to “teach the Congress a lesson” as they put it. In the end, the Congress was left badly bruised, with its nominee losing his security deposit.

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