Five years after running the government in Punjab, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal claims to have found a single panacea to end all economic woes of the state.
“Cheap electricity,” he says, is where the solution lies. “Once we are able to provide cheaper electricity than other states, then all the industries that have left the state will return,” Singh said. He, however, agrees that doing this may take some time, as he is banking on the five power projects that are under construction in the state.
The Opposition, meanwhile, has made relocation of a large number of industries out of Punjab — leading to unemployment — a major election issue. The Congress, which is leading the charge against the incumbent government, claims that unemployment in the state has grown by 37 per cent, with Prakash Singh Badal at the helm of affairs. (Click here for graphics)
“The rate of unemployment increased by 37 per cent. Nearly 900 industrial units have shifted from Punjab to Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. This because of the corrupt and imprudent policies of the Akali government,” said former chief minister Amarinder Singh, who is the Congress’ chief ministerial candidate.
The Akalis , it seems, have realised the significance of unemployment as an election issue and have now promised to generate one million additional jobs if they are voted to power. Of this, two lakh would be government jobs. Other than this, they are also promising to provide Rs 1,000 unemployment allowance to each educated unemployed youth in the state.
Other than the rising employment and absence of industrialisation, corruption scandals, drug addiction and mismanagement of the state’s economy were also the poll-issues dominating the Assembly elections in Punjab.
Experts said this marked a major shift from the politics of identity that dominated the agenda during the previous Assembly elections towards issues of development and governance.
“There is much less talk of identity in this election and there is no mention of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Most political parties are now talking of development. This is a welcome change,” said Pramod Kumar, director of the Chandigarh-based Institute of Development and Communi-cation.
The Congress has blamed the tendency of the SAD-BJP combine to “spend aimlessly to gain cheap publicity and corruption” as the reason for the bankruptcy of the state. However, this isn’t stopping them from dolling out freebies. So, if the SAD has promised free laptops with data cards for high school students and free gas connections for BPL families, the Congress has promised compensation to farmers whose land falls across the international border at Rs 20,000 per acre per year, 100 per cent crop insurance for all farmers and subsidy on seeds of vegetables.