With competing political parties beating each other in selling dreams and offering doles, the electoral battles have been reduced to incremental politics. Hurling wildest accusations and threatening to put opponents behind the bars and seeking blessings of some dubious or not so dubious Deras has become the mark of politics in Punjab.
There are basketfuls of doles, slogans and chanting of winning mantras all around. No party wishes to be left behind. The ruling coalition of Akalis and the BJP claims to have already developed Punjab as good as California , the opponents; the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, decrying this claim, offer free education , health care and world class infra structure besides 25 lakh jobs for the youth and free treatment for the drug addicts . No one tells from where the jobs will spring out with farm and industrial economy in doldrums. Punjab currently has a net burden of debt of Rs 1. 30 lakh crore and has been forced to mortgage or sell a large of public properties to pay salaries and pensions.
And, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to poll bound Punjab, he offers either to scrap the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan or suggests sprinkle irrigation to tide over an acute water shortage. He merrily take Punjabis as gullible and advises that since Punjab is a border state with an enemy lurking just close by , the voters should not vote any anti national party and thus increase the threat to national security. At the Kotkapura rally, he saw a threat to the national security if any party other than the SAD-BJP alliance forming a government in the border state. If he is really as concerned as he should be, let him ban such parties. We are, for sure reducing the paradigm of politics to dubious sub nationalism of low quality. He also harangues that there is no drug menace; it is a conspiracy to malign the beautiful name of Punjab.
And, there is a shocker as Modi also sought Punjabis to believe that there is no drug issue and it was just a ploy of the opposition to malign the state and its youth. And, there is Union minister Mrs. Harsimrat Kaur Badal suggesting that only a person with dastar [meaning Sikh] should become the chief minister of Punjab. Who is posing a threat to our democratic system?
If the wretched poor, the Dalit announce the boycott of elections slated on February 4, they have a certain cause. These landless people at the lower end of the ladder want their due share in the village common land. This land is usually usurped by the rich landowners with the help of politicians and bureaucracy. No manifesto talks about that. But ironically these pious declarations only talk about subsidies and doles. No real structural change is suggested to end the poverty and the deprivation.
It is the same in other sectors of education and health or agriculture and industry. The state is bidding goodbye to its role in these important social sector sectors. Reforms and investment in education only means, some scholarships, cycles or laptops. We shall continue to have the same old schools and colleges without adequate buildings, teachers or equipment and the same rotten examination system to stare at the generations of youth. While the so called public schools, colleges and mushrooming private universities charging exorbitant fees and short changing the students, the government schools and colleges function with less than half of the sanctioned strength of teachers. Even prestigious universities in Chandigarh, Amritsar, Ludhiana and Patiala are being starved of funds. Punjab Agriculture University that spearheaded the Green Revolution is crying for funds and finds it tough to make both ends meet.
Government neglect of health sector has only helped mushrooming of private clinics and hospitals. Jalandhar alone boasts of over one hundred such specialized hospitals. Patients have to pay through their nose. And, the solution offered is either state funded insurance or some concessions. There is no corresponding effort to strengthen government health institutions and provide adequate number of doctors.
Same is true about the crisis ridden agriculture where farmers face adverse market conditions, leading to pauperization. Suicides and drug addiction are the fate of the half baked youth. The size of land holdings is shrinking by each passing day and indebtedness of the farmers increasing. Current estimate is a debt burden of Rs 52,000 crore. No politician has really understood the Swaminathan report but is promising like Narendra Modi did during the run up for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It is sheer jumlabazi
And, masses mostly fed on the heady mix of politics and religion often end up as vote bank of this or that caste or Dera; religious sects all powerful that have clout to make or mar the fate of political parties and their leaders. Currently, political leaders of all hues are at the doors of these Deras, seeking blessings. The Congress and the BJP stalwarts [Gandhi, Advani and Shah besides the RSS chief] have repeatedly visited these Deras and so has been the practice of the Aam Aadmi Party. The Akalis have a clear advantage of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee that controls gurdwaras and this they have managed for the past many decades much to the chagrin of opponents.
Democracy in this milieu of competing politics of promises and doles has come to mean a mere exercise of franchise, a five year ritual with least participation of the public in the process of governance and delivery of goods and services. Democratic institutions outlined in the constitution at the village and town level are in a stage of decay with most of the time money bags and anti social elements controlling these bodies of grass root democracy.
People question the political parties’ promise of freebies and inducements in their poll manifestos to lure voters. Are these not clearly amounting to bribery and corrupt practices? Even when providing free conveyance to voters is considered an offence under the provisions of the Representation of the Peoples Act, how can such apparent inducements be allowed? It is time that the law is amended to ban such corrupt practices?