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Debt-ridden economy, angry youth seeking well-paying jobs — AAP faces tough trek in Punjab

By winning 92 out of Punjab's 117 seats, and a 42 per cent voteshare, AAP has scored a landslide in the state. The opportunity comes with a lot of expectations.

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New Delhi: Nine years since its inception, the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is finally set to win another state outside Delhi. 

By winning 92 out of Punjab’s 117 seats, and a 42 per cent voteshare, the party has scored a landslide in the state. 

Punjab is known to vote for change. Since 1969 (except 2012) the state has always voted out incumbent parties. Mostly, power has remained with only two prominent forces — the Akalis and the Congress. 

However, given the state of Punjab’s economy and the pressure to perform, the AAP faces an uphill task. 

While the AAP kept seeking a chance through the campaign — “Ik mauka do Kejriwal noo (give one chance to Arvind Kejriwal)” — the granting of this opportunity comes with huge expectations. Government employees are eyeing regularisation, the youth is looking for well-paying jobs, industries are eyeing ease of doing business.

The AAP has so far only had experience ruling Delhi — a highly urbanised, revenue-rich territory. Again, since Delhi’s economy doesn’t rely as heavily on agriculture as Punjab’s, the AAP will be faced with challenges it has never faced in Delhi, say experts. 

“The AAP in Delhi is not experienced in handling issues like agrarian crisis and water issues, like sharing the Sutlej waters with Haryana. Moreover, the issues of Punjab are very much of the Punjabis and Punjabiyat, the AAP will have no option but to perform,” said Paramjit Singh, assistant professor at Panjab University’s Economics Department in Chandigarh.

A replication of the party’s Delhi model of freebies will require a financial overhaul of the state. The AAP, say experts, will have to raise finances in the debt-ridden state.

Also read: Kejriwal’s AAP got 3 things right in Punjab this time, starting with Bhagwant Mann for CM

Getting finances right with industrial reforms

The biggest challenge facing the AAP is the dire state of Punjab’s finances. According to the RBI handbook on Indian economy, Punjab’s debt-GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) ratio in 2020-21, at 53.3 per cent, was the highest among all states in the country.

Experts urged reforms in promoting industries as a way out of the situation.

Professor emeritus at Khalsa College of Patiala’s Punjabi University, Lakhwinder Singh, said the AAP also has the huge responsibility of initiating the transition of Punjab from being an agrarian economy to a more diversified one, with a dire need for industries and the service sector.

“The big win of the AAP is no surprise and was expected. But the number of seats touching 90 is a bit surprising. The first and foremost challenge for the new government will be reviving the dysfunctional fiscal policy. It faces a mountain of debt worth Rs 3 lakh crore. Second major challenge will be a change in mode of governance, from a security-oriented one to a development-oriented one,” he said.

“Arresting massive corruption and eliminating the mafia is another task. Yet another challenge is hopelessness and mass human capital migration to developed countries. Then there is the revival of economy and generation of decent jobs, besides fulfilling the promises made during the election,” Lakhwinder added.

“Everybody’s promising freebies but where will the money come from?” he said.

The new government faces a Rs 10,000 crore subsidy bill from the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited, which was reportedly not cleared by the previous governments. 

To top that, the AAP also promised 300 free units of electricity with 24-hour uninterrupted supply, along with free education and basic medical treatment. 

“All political parties do is announce freebies, but I am yet to see any of their blueprints as to how they will achieve them,” Ronki Ram, professor of political science at Panjab University, told ThePrint.

Youth dissatisfied with jobs, moving out

During ThePrint’s ground coverage in the state, many youths expressed resentment over low-paying jobs. They were either moving to other states or were taking English lessons to move abroad.

According to the CSDS Lokniti-KAS survey conducted last year, 78 per cent of Punjab’s youth believed the state was offering them ‘bad’ jobs — the level of dissatisfaction highest in the country.

Students in IELTS coaching centres had said that lack of opportunities and well-paying jobs were behind their decision to leave the country.

The exodus of young Punjabis has only gained momentum in recent years — almost one in every 33 Punjabis has reportedly moved abroad in the last five-six years. Those who can’t go or haven’t been able to move expect the new government to help them. 

Paramjit Singh, who teaches political economy at Panjab University, said the state will also have to work harder on higher education.

“The faculty deficit in Punjab’s higher education institutes is also leading the youth to find quality education in other states or move abroad. The new government has to ensure that the vacancies in Punjab’s higher education institutions are filled in time.”

‘Not performing breach of trust’ 

Another likely challenge for the AAP is the state’s culture of unions. Before the elections were announced, masses of healthcare workers, contractual teachers and bus union members had launched protests for days.’

“Those protests were based on certain issues which still prevail,” Ronki Ram said.

The teachers and healthcare workers were demanding better wages and regularisation of jobs. Many told ThePrint that they would wait for a short while and then put pressure on the new government to fulfil their demands.

Some of those union leaders had told ThePrint that they would not wait long to restart their protests.

According to Ronki Ram, the AAP will have to start working from day one. 

“The new government will have to start performing from day one. The Lok Sabha elections are hardly two years away, which will test the performance of the party in the state,” he said. 

“People have voted for change and due to chronic neglect their expectations from the new entrant are too high. Not performing will be considered a breach of trust,” he added.

(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)

Also read: AAP’s ‘badlaav’ campaign changes its fortunes in Punjab, Mann seems set for CM chair


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