AAP's callow conduct even before Mann took oath doesn't portend well for sensitive border state of Punjab

Governing Punjab is a serious and complicated business unlike Delhi where state govt plays a role akin to a municipality. Most importantly, law and order machinery must be handled with maturity

AAP's callow conduct even before Mann took oath doesn't portend well for sensitive border state of Punjab

Rahul Gul

For a political party which rode to power on the back of an ‘anti-corruption movement’ and vowed to uphold probity in public life by providing an ‘alternative’ model of governance, the conduct of the leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by its national convenor Arvind Kejriwal following its victory in Punjab Vidhan Sabha elections has been downright jarring, besides being a pointer to how their lust for ‘power’ over the police and other State agencies denied to it in Delhi may have them fulfilling personal ambitions and aspirations at the cost of public welfare in the sensitive border state.

The AAP’s leadership was evidently so enthralled at the prospect of forming a government in a ‘proper’ state after years of running a ‘municipal’ government in Delhi where the Centre-appointed Lieutenant Governor rules the roost that it got the administration to do its bidding by throwing propriety, tradition and constitutional norms to the wind in their impatience to seize the levers of power and throw their weight around.

The orders issued by the administration recalling police personnel deployed to secure outgoing ministers and MLAs and expending huge sums of money to facilitate a fancy AAP road show and ostentatious swearing-in ceremony of the incoming chief minister were obviously taken by officials at the behest of the new regime – notwithstanding their protestations to the contrary. In a similar fashion, an officer was appointed as Principal Secretary to the new CM, while a lawyer was designated as the new Advocate General.

In doing so, they exposed their immaturity and contempt for the established norms that an incumbent chief minister retains the power and authority in the state government till a new one is duly sworn-in.

No matter how much the sanctity of such a ceremony may have been eroded over the years in public perception due to crooked politicians bending the law for all kinds of reasons, the fact remains that an individual, before taking over as CM, takes an oath of office and secrecy on a holy book of his/her choice to uphold the Constitution and perform the duties of office without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, among other things.

A similar oath must be taken by a newly-elected Member of Legislature (MLA), but what we saw in Punjab is AAP MLAs running amok in their constituencies, tweeting about issuing ‘orders’ to ostensibly shut down an alleged sand mafia operation somewhere or ‘catching’ a doctor who was allegedly inebriated while on duty in a government hospital.

The sheer scale of the road show held in Amritsar and Bhagwant Mann’s swearing-in ceremony held on Wednesday, meanwhile, belied AAP’s claims of being a party with a difference. Not only were hundreds of state transport department buses diverted and deployed for the Amritsar event, putting thousands of commuters to inconvenience, forty acres of standing wheat crop were cleared out and turned into a make-shift parking area for the public event held at Khatkar Kalan village in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar district.

Interestingly, the village was chosen because it was purportedly Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s birthplace, whereas it only houses a memorial and museum opened on his 50th birth anniversary. He was actually born in Lyallpur district in present-day Pakistan.

Incidentally, the new CM had also announced – again, much in advance to taking oath of office – that all state government offices will display photographs of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Dr BR Ambedkar instead of the CM as is the usual practice, but going by the politically-loaded choice of venue of the oath-taking ceremony as the martyr’s birthplace, which is obviously not the case, such a stance does not inspire confidence.

What does the AAP leadership really have in mind, considering that it has never had anything to do with the political philosophy of either individual?

It is obviously all about optics. Nothing more, nothing less.

Meanwhile, doubts are being expressed from day one about how much of the decision-making would actually be done by the “Super CM”, party supremo Arvind Kejriwal. It has been alleged that Bhagwant Mann is but a ‘rubber stamp’ for Kejriwal, and a photograph of the former genuflecting before the latter for his ‘blessings’ immediately after the election results were declared did nothing to dispel that notion.

What is of concern is that Kejriwal has come a long way from the days when he shared the stage with Anna Hazare espousing the cause of ‘India Against Corruption’, climbed up to an electric meter wielding a pair of pliers, drove around in a beat-up WagonR, slept on the road near the Central Secretariat as part of a protest and tweeted that “Modi is a coward and a psychopath” after his office was raided by the CBI in 2015.

Let alone walking his initial talk of eschewing the trappings of a high political office in this country, referred to in popular parlance as ‘VIP culture’, such as living in an imposing government bungalow and a cavalcade complete with gun-toting police guards, and providing an ‘alternate’ system of governance after being voted to power in Delhi, Kejriwal, say his detractors, has now turned into a seasoned politician helming a run of the mill political outfit which needs money to keep its wheels greased.

It is alleged that graft is rampant in the higher echelons of power in Delhi government, besides agencies controlled directly by the state government such as Revenue and Transport departments. Indeed, many of its MLAs have allegedly scripted rags-to-riches tales since they got elected as unknown faces with just the allocation of the party symbol to show as their achievements in life.

Meanwhile, roads under the PWD have craters like the Moon in many parts of the city even on key stretches, the flood control department remains comatose when the monsoon plays havoc, streetlights are absent even on arterial roads, the fleet of DTC buses remains sparse and key agencies like those to supervise the multi-crore illegal pet trade and rehabilitation centers have either not been constituted or remain completely ineffective.

The AAP boasts of having turned around schools run by the state government, but merely an improvement in physical infrastructure does not amount to imparting good education.

There are also allegations of the liquor mafia thriving under the present regime.

The AAP-led Delhi government has also earned notoriety for indulging in an advertising blitzkrieg instead of applying itself to the nitty-gritty of governance, spending hundreds of crores on newspaper jackets, hoardings and signboards patting itself on the back for various accomplishments.

Arvind Kejriwal has also been accused of borrowing a leaf from the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the helm at the Centre and peddling soft Hindutva, with the state government funding and organizing Diwali Pujans and the CM singing paeans to Lord Hanuman.

Only time will tell what fate is to befall the people of Punjab. The people deserve the government they elect, it is said.

But AAP would do well to keep in mind that the governance of a border state like Punjab is a serious and complicated business, unlike Delhi where law and order is the Centre's domain.

It can only be hoped that the new government does not end up being infatuated with delivering freebies, taking populist decisions and resorting to sensationalism and ignoring serious issues such as the need to effectively check cross-border infiltration and the menace of drugs.

If the AAP fails to live up to the expectations it has raised in Punjab, it is unlikely to get another similar opportunity, and may well go down in history as an also-ran political outfit which ran aground after a flash in the pan.

(Views are personal)

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Published: 16 Mar 2022, 5:58 PM