The good news is his strong stance on Khalistani elements & illegal sand mining; the bad news is pre-poll promises of phones & jobs are unfulfilled.
Chandigarh: Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh celebrated his 76th birthday Sunday and completed the first year of this term in office. The Congress had returned to power with a thumping victory in the assembly elections last year, the results of which were declared on his birthday, 11 March.
ThePrint analyses the successes and of Amarinder’s year in power:
What he’s done right
- The most significant achievement has been his unyielding, implacable opposition to Khalistani elements in the state and abroad. He refused to meet Canadian defence minister Harjit Sajjan when he came to India in March last year, sending a strong message to Canada opposing its tacit support to Sikh extremists there. His stand on Sikh militancy was complemented by complete support from the Centre. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau was extended only a lukewarm welcome on his eight-day visit to India, and later, when the two leaders met, Amarinder asked Trudeau to act against Khalistani elements based in Canada involved in violent activities in Punjab.
- The illegal sand mining racket in Punjab is run by an unholy nexus of the police, politicians, and sand mining contractors. The situation was no different during the ten-year Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP rule in Punjab. Just last week, the chief minister, on his way to Kartarpur, spotted illegal mining on the dry bed of the Sutlej river, and ordered a probe. The police had to spring into action and a crackdown on illegal mining followed. Though the move made for good optics more than anything else, it made it clear that Amarinder is not going to support those running the show. Earlier in the year, he removed Rana Gurjit Singh from his cabinet after it was found that his former employees had bid for mining contracts in the state.
- Amarinder has also been fairly successful in dealing with rampant drug addiction in Punjab. He created a special task force (STF) to control smuggling, peddling, and consumption of drugs in the state. The STF, headed by senior IPS officer Harpreet Singh Sidhu, reports directly to the chief minister’s office. Apart from tackling the crime aspect of the problem, i.e. curbing the supply of drugs, the STF is also tasked with finding solutions to curbing the demand, and to deal with it as a public health issue.
- Under Amarinder, the state police has managed to solve a series of related murders, in which a majority were Hindu Right-wing leaders. The crimes had remained unsolved for the past two years, and state police chief Suresh Arora’s job was at stake. The criminals were finally arrested in October last year after the police unearthed a Khalistani militant module operating with the help of Pakistan-based former militants. The police under Amarinder are also effectively cracking down on gangsters in the state.
- Amarinder values his independent style of functioning, and that has also become the hallmark of his administration. He has given a virtually free hand to the bureaucrats in the state to run the government with minimal political interference. Significantly, he has shown a rare quality among politicians – to stand by bureaucrats. His insistence of having an honest and upright officer Suresh Kumar, a retired IAS officer, as his chief principal secretary despite various challenges, is a case in point.
What he’s done wrong
- Amarinder has proved indecisive in expanding his cabinet, which is currently at half its strength. The fact that cabinet expansion has been postponed several times over the past year has led to annoyance among MLAs, who are already upset over his giving more importance to bureaucrats than them. Apart from the political impact, administratively too, the concentration of power in a few hands is taking its toll. Amarinder’s party men are also angry for his being “soft” towards the Akalis in opposition, particularly when it comes to moving against former revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia over the drug issue, against the cable mafia allegedly controlled by a group considered close to the Badal family, as well as the Badals’ transport business.
- Amarinder has not been able to fulfil one of his most popular election promises — to provide smart phones to the youth. The scheme was called the ‘Captain Smart Connect Scheme – Saanjhe Supne’, and over 30 lakh youth had registered for the freebie. The first lot of 50 lakh free phones was supposed to be given out in the first 100 days of the government. The budget for 2017-18 featured a token sum of Rs 10 crore for the free phones scheme, but it has not taken off at all.
- The complete loan waiver promised to farmers has only been partially implemented, with several riders. The waiver was restricted to small and marginal farmers, bringing down the number of beneficiaries. The government paid back the loans of 47,000 farmers worth Rs 170 crore in the first lot. The implementation process was fraught with allegations of the wrong beneficiaries being added to the list, and the exercise ended up earning more criticism than praise.
- The pre- poll promise of ‘ghar ghar rozgar’ (employment to every home) also turned out to be nothing more than the state organising job fairs in collaboration with private companies, something like the annual placement fair organised by engineering colleges. Till Monday, the government claimed it had given jobs to over 1.61 lakh persons through these job fairs. However, whether these offer letters have actually led to employment is unverified.
- The state police under Amarinder has not been able to solve the major incidents of desecration of Guru Granth Sahib, which took place in 2016. The incidents had become a key election issue and led to the decimation of the Akalis at the hustings. Also Amarinder’s government has not taken action against the policemen involved in the killing of two Sikh protesters at Bargari following the desecration incidents.
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