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Punjab Chief Minister and incumbent Congress leader Amarinder Singh in a rather a ominous sign of things to come had to face the embarrassment of having his campaign chopper land at an Shiromani Akali Dal Rally on a wet Sunday. That the apparent faux pas by the Chief Minister was the highlight of the last day of campaigning before Punjab goes to polls just about sums up the politics in the run upto the assembly elections. While polling would take place on February 13, the results are expected on February 27 after elections in Uttaranchal and Manipur are completed.Â Most media observers are giving the SAD-BJP combine the edge with a haphazard Congress campaign highlighted by the three meetings cancelled by Sonia Gandhi due to rain.
In the last leg of campaigning, both Vajpayee and leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha LK Advani, sought to lambast PM Manmohan Singh for raising a bogey of fear of revival of militancy in Punjab in case the Akalis were voted to power. That the gentleman Prime Minister in his home state of Punjab (or rather foster state, the PM elected to the Rajya Sabha from Assam) could not speak to any core issues and had to resort to fear mongering goes to show the campaign in Punjab has been shorn of real compelling issues.Â Populism and personality clashes have marked the run up to the election. Amarinder Singh and Prakash Singh Badal, bitter political rivals in Punjab, had virtually hijacked the assembly election campaign in a strong war of words. And then you had the Navjot Singh Sindhu just in time electioneering drama in Amritsar thanks to the Supreme Court giving him a long lease of life outside the prison bars pending his legal challenge. That the only issue worth debating in Amritsar was Sidhu’s performing a Havan a hindu ritual in apparent contradiction to Sikh tenets sums up how the lok sabha battle is shaping up there.
While all this might look dismal on the face of it, there is more here at work than meets the eyes. Badal with his punch line of â€œCommitment to change the future of Punjabâ€ and Amarinder with his â€œProsperous and modern Punjabâ€ offer a glimpse of politics shorn of basic issues of entitlement, deprivation and social justice. One hears everything in the populist rhetoric in Punjab except for those two magic words that echo in almost every other election in India – “Social Justice”.
So how come a Badal who talks of providing world-class education system â€” quality schools, colleges and information technology institutes, a commitment on 24-hour power to all sectors, world-class roads, employment for the youth and better sports facilities, besides world-class healthcare and promotion of trade and industry has barely anything to clamour for on the Social Justice question ?
Amarinder Singh who promised to maintain the speed and momentum of development, to bring more investment, more jobs, better education avenues, empowerment of youth, transparency in admission and recruitment, welfare of the disadvantaged sections, public safety and modern lifestyle also assiduosly avoided uttering the S-phrase.
Offstumped Bottomline: So while we may dismiss Punjab for its personality driven politics shorn of issues there is also reason to celebrate that inÂ a state that celebrated individual industy and enterprise, a state that was at the forefront of the green revolution and became the bread basket of the nation, politics has moved beyond last century’s rhetoric of deprivation and entitlement. There may afterall be some hope for a Right of Center Agenda in states like Punjab once we get past the ego clashes and the identity agendas.