Rich states, rich politicians!

Poor track records, negative images!

The NDTV show on the Punjab farmer’s suicides came as a rude shock! The heart-breaking scenes, the tears and misery of the women who lost their husbands were too much to bear viewing for long. Yet, the feature did a great national service for highlighting what is held back from the public view the many contradictions and distortions that have come to characterise Punjab agriculture.

What was often highlighted, made great public displays in the newspapers and TV channels is the Bharti Mittal’s Wal-Mart foray or Pepsi Company’s entry into the agri sector. The Green Revolution creates a false image and that false image had stuck in public memory, thanks to the over-zealous publicity-seeking agri scientists turned propagandists and apologists for the Central Government.

The old Punjab that went on to make the Green Revolution such a grand success is now gone. Forever, it seems. The new Punjab is altogether a different story, a difficult story. Did anyone tell you that Punjab tops the chart in per capita farmers’ debt? No. Did anyone tell you that Punjab’s social sector indicators, maternal mortality, infanticide and other social ills far outpaces other less “developed” states? No, not likely.

Yes, there are serious issues in the new Punjab’s agri sector. There is this new phenomenon of farmers suicides, uneconomic land holdings, farmers-turned migrants, in search of livelihood and honour by the poor farmers who have been totally left behind by the new generation of politicians, who are all now crorepatis and they have now come out with a vengeance, as in the latest Assembly elections to win power, by using all the highhanded methods! It is also dynastic rule in Punjab, taking acute from New Delhi; it is Badal vs Amarinder Singh, two of the richest families of Punjab, all in the name of development vs religious, ethnic identity!

Punjab and Gujarat are always considered top states in terms of critical development indicators. Punjab is the granary of India, along with Haryana and Western UP. Its agricultural performance was always considered world class until recently when the problems of soil salinity and water logging and declining productivity and all India per capita farm debts created many doubts about the future of Punjab agriculture.

Gujarat is always outwitting other states in terms of drawing record investments. Punjab was always the agricultural pioneer, thanks to the Bhakra-Nangal dam and the management of inter-state river waters. So too now Gujarat with its record hitting Narmada dam that serves so many states and also seeing such persistent protests over the rehabilitation of the displaced people. May be this is a new phenomenon in the post-Nehru era of managing the inter-state river waters on such large scale. Times change and we have to welcome changes and as far as agriculture’s future is concerned we can’t be dogmatic when it comes to sharing the inter-state waters or utilising the precious natural resources for the maximum benefit to the entire country. In this context the recent Cauvery River waters award too has to be seen in the national context, the few persisting issues have to be negotiated in a spirit of give and take and there can’t be any more politics of the narrow king in such matters that has direct bearing on the poverty and prosperity of the common man.
Gujarat and Punjab have so many lessons in development and also in terms of the quality of state politics.  Punjab CM, Capt.Amarinder Singh has given out his thoughts on the eve of the Assembly elections and the sort of candidates, fielded by various parties, also give an indication of the sort of politics the state is to have for some more years to come. Most of the candidates are found wanting when it comes to probity in public life. Some of the richest men and women candidates are in the field. The cursory look at their declaration of personal wealth shows that it is all rich men and women’s game, this democratic politics at the beginning of the new century. Some of the prominent politicians, some 10 among them, have declared a personal wealth of Rs.39 crore (CM) to 30 crores to way down to 1.44 crores.

Luckily most of them have no criminal records, though a few do. As for the Akali Dal, it is again a rich men and women’s club. The top candidate is rich by 89 crores and also faces murder charges! The next rich starts with Rs.54 crores to Prakash Singh Badal, the former CM and a powerful figure declaring Rs.13 crores as his wealth, though many dispute this figure. His son, another Badal is rich by 9.4 crore, a Bar-at-law, is said to be the richest among the lot in the party.

Criminal records low but corruption charges high among the candidates. There are more crorepatis in the Akali party, though Congress candidates don’t lag behind when it comes to crorepatis. Even the Dalit candidates are wealthy, the wealthiest declaring an asset of Rs.6 crores. Land mafia, dynastic candidates, crorepati politicians, landlords, barons, big-ticket NRIs, transport tycoons, liquor giants and traders are the common descriptions for the candidates. Among the 26 reserved seats for Dalits, there are 27 crorepatis. Women candidates make for interesting reading. The richest is worth 90 crores. Another top five crorepatis among the women candidates. Badal is alleged to possess wealth to the tune of Rs. 3,500 crores, alleged by the CM whose palace is valued only at Rs. 35 crores spread over 32 acres at the heart of Patiala. Yet, Badal, the senior has declared that the only vehicle he owns is a second hand tractor!

Says the CM:”70 per cent of Punjabis are under 40 years; they look to the future with much fear, as there is no worthwhile development, as seen under the Aakali rule. Development has become the most central issue in this election, thanks to the Congress rule putting development as the main issue before the people of Punjab”. The CM alleges that “the Akalis had never gone beyond Aurangazeb in their speeches”.

Chandigarh, the newly built capital must belong to Punjab and Haryana must build its own capital, says the CM, the Chandigarh issue is a hot emotional issue. Questions of Sikh identity are another contentious issue, who can deliver it? Congress or the Akalis?

The new agenda of development is the one route to regain the Punjabi identity, through more development and the promise of realising the aspirations of the younger generation. The religious symbols are again a current issue, the Heritage Memorial, free access to Nankana Sahib and other holy sites. The CM promised to tackle unemployment, bring in one lakh crores worth of new investment, to generate 20 lakh new jobs. “Unemployment will not be an issue for several coming generations”! This in itself is a Punjabi style grand gesture! Politics in Punjab has always been a grand gesture of sorts, in all extremes, the Punjab milancy itself is an outcome of such grand standing and vague emotions creating so much tensions and upheavals.
Punjab has many border districts and wars and the peace are the constant themes. Now, with war receding from public domian, there is talk of peace and opening of the routes towards more trade with Pakistan.
Narendra Modi, on the other hand, has claimed a record investment and he says his state scores over other states in all development parameters. The Godhra arson is very much in the background, though those horrible days remain in public memory to give the state a negative image. Lately, he was in the news when his name was dropped from the BJP executive committee. Modi nursed the Prime ministerial ambitions and the latest move has come as a shock to his many admirers. It was widely expected that Modi, along with Arun Jaitley would lead the 2009 Lok Sabha election campaign. He drew the loudest applause during the party’s Lucknow national executive last December.

Mr.Narendra Modi, the incumbent Chief Minister of Gujarat, by all accounts, is the most powerful politician in the BJP party, though now his wings are sought to be clipped. Even after the approval of the RSS and the senior leaders, Vajpayee and Advani who suspect that Modi might outplay them when the time comes in Delhi, he still remains the most powerful man in Gujarat, his hold on the political and the administrative machinery is unchallenged. It is widely felt that he is the only one BJP, or suffron, leader who can win a record number of MPs from the state, very similar to what Kalyan Singh did in his best days in Lucknow. When Singh won 50 MP seats in two consecutive elections. This ropetrick, Modi only can do now, if at all. In that case, his role in the “selection” of the next Prime Minister would be crucial. Vajpayee and Advani still entertain prime ministerial ambitions. But among the next line of leaders, it is only Modi who has the mass base, despite the debacle of the party in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.

So, how to judge Modi? An asset or a liability?

Certainly, Modi is a doer. His track record on the economic front is impressive. He asserts that Gujarat can achieve an 11 per cent rate of growth. The Centre is aiming a rate of 9.2 per cent. Says the CM: “Gujarat needs to generate unprecedented growth. In agriculture, manufacturing and services, human resources. We are ready for that“. Is this the CM who indulged in such communal flareup that the outside world condmened, India earned such a bad name?

The state has organised “Vibrant Gujarat” biennial summit thrice and attracted an astounding 140 b dollar in investment proposals. Creating infrastructure with global benchmarks, create a level playing field for global players. Even the investors speak of the professional approach, no politics, no bureaucratic delays etc. Rs.4, and 61,835 crores investment represents 1.3 million jobs! Over 80 per cent of the proposals, investments in the last two years have been implemented, says the CM.

Gujarat agriculture and coastline based industries, salt and chemical industries are all well-known and so too the entrepreneurial culture of the public.

So, we have to weigh the plus and minus points. Farmers’ suicides have come from Punjab and Gujarat too! The social evils like infanticide, women’s oppression in Punjab and Gujarat’s communal track record is simply abysmal. But given the total neglect and insensitivity of the politicians in other states, for the agri sector’s depressing scenario, Punjab and Gujarat, at least should give us hope for more innovative agri sector initiatives.

Punjab’s water scarce cotton belt had seen farmers’ suicides and farmers migration to Rajasthan and Gujarat. Yes, there is also the story that owing to good monsoon there is the higher yield of indigenous BT cotton seeds brought in from Gujarat. The CM’s role in terminating the inter-state agreement on the sharing of the waters of the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej among Punjab, Haryana, HP and Rajasthan saved water for the Malwa cotton belt. The growing unemployment, consumption of smuggling liquor and opium is also a social problem.

Punjab and Haryana always played a critical role in arm-twisting the Centre to get the best deal for farmers, MSP etc and thus Punjab and also Gujarat have a critical role to play in the new century’s agricultural strategies and policies.

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