Chandigarh, May 18 (IANS) The top leadership of the Punjab Congress may still be licking its wounds after its defeat in the assembly elections earlier this year, but the worst is still not over.
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also president of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, have started an exercise to meet the leadership in the union government to highlight problems facing the state and get funds and schemes sanctioned for it.
This cosying up is causing severe heartburn among state Congress leaders, especially those from the camp of state party chief Amarinder Singh.
In recent weeks, the Badals have met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and others to raise the issues of Punjab and get clearances. In most cases, they have been able to secure a positive response from the ministers.
In fact, last week, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh was hosted in grand style as he toured Punjab for two days.
Sukhbir could be seen himself driving the union minister in a Mercedes SUV through village roads and tracks with a cavalcade of vehicles and hordes of gun-toting security personnel around. Ramesh was even flown around to some areas in a helicopter with the chief minister himself standing at the helipad to receive the flamboyant minister.
During his overnight stay in Chandigarh, Ramesh was put up in a suite of the Taj Hotel. He addressed a press conference with Badal Senior at a government-run five-star hotel. The union minister seemed "impressed" and promised to sanction schemes and funds for Punjab.
While Congress leaders are fuming at the fact that central leaders, especially union ministers, are consorting with the Badals openly, the Akali Dal leadership is criticising the role of the state Congress leaders, terming it "negative" and "against the interests of Punjab".
"The Badal father-son duo is very clever. They are getting central schemes and grants and claiming credit for these with people in the state. They won the election also by projecting that their government had done a lot. The fact is that most of the funds, including for the 'atta-dal' scheme, came from the centre. Our central ministers should see through their game," a former Congress minister said here.
"The Punjab government should utilise central funds more judiciously. There should be a probe into the mismanagement of rural development funds in Punjab," Leader of Opposition and senior Congress leader Sunil Kumar Jakhar said.
In fact, a few Congress leaders went on record to demand that central ministers should not oblige the Badals much.
In reaction, Akali Dal leader and spokesman Daljeet Singh Cheema said: "Instead of raising these issues, the Congress leaders should see the reality and work for the betterment of Punjab and its people."
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)