Jangveer Singh, Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, December 27. The year 2012 saw strengthening of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) under its president Sukhbir Singh Badal who emerged as a leader in his own right. But its fag end put his leadership abilities to test with the confidence of the people being shaken by several incidents of brazen disregard of law and order by Akali workers.
While there was a feeling that Sukhbir was one of the architects of the SAD’s victory in the 2007 assembly elections, the 2012 win is being solely ascribed to Sukhbir’s innovative gambles as well as management skills.
In stark contrast, Sukhbir’s rivals have suffered. Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh was kept in limbo by the party high command which is still dithering on who should head the state unit. People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) president Manpreet Singh Badal was earlier seemed to be emerging as the third alternative in the state. But his popularity has been on the wane with his party being hit by mass desertions.
The year also saw Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal receding into the background with power being concentrated in the hands of Sukhbir and his brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia. The latter who emerged as the strongest leader in the Majha belt made a comeback into the ministry, besides continuing to lead the Youth Akali Dal (YAD).
The SAD not only started well by winning the assembly elections in March in league with the BJP but also whitewashed the opposition Congress in the corporation elections in early June. The coalition also easily defeated a demoralised Congress in the Dasuya byelection the same month.
However, there were some early embarrassments with three ministers being forced to resign. Social Welfare Minister Bibi Jagir Kaur resigned after being convicted for wrong doing in the Harpreet case in March. The next to fall was Agriculture Minister Tota Singh who was convicted in May for misusing official machinery. In September, Animal Husbandry Minister Gulzar Singh Ranike was forced to resign following allegations of embezzlement of grants.
Even as the government withstood this embarrassment, it was caught on the wrong foot on the issue of law and order.
The government was found wanting with a perception gaining ground that it was a mute spectator and even encouraged people to vent out their feelings to demand commutation of the death sentence awarded to former Chief Minister Beant Singh assassin Balwant Singh Rajoana. The SAD even embarrassed its coalition partner the BJP by bowing to the hardliners and giving a go-ahead to the SGPC to construct Operation Bluestar Memorial at the Darbar Sahib complex in Amritsar. The Chief Minister salvaged the situation somewhat after coming under fire by saying only
a gurdwara would be allowed to come up in the form of the memorial.
The government, particularly the SAD, was put on the defensive at the fag end of the year by the brazen conduct of Akali workers. This included the abduction of a Faridkot girl by an Akali worker, the murder of an Assistant-Sub Inspector by another party worker and the beating up of senior police officer SS Mand by yet others.
The Congress, which was in doldrums for most of the year, took up this issue in the Vidhan Sabha and was given further ammunition when Revenue minister Bikram Majithia was caught on camera mouthing expletives against Congress legislator Rana Gurjit Singh.
The year also saw inauguration of the Rs 21,500-crore Guru Gobind Singh Refinery at Bathinda and the Integrated Check Post at Attari aimed at boosting the Indo-Pak trade.
Sukhbir also had a successful visit to Pakistan Punjab, besides successfully holding the World Kabaddi Cup. On the negative side, though VAT collections were up, the government continued to struggle financially and it has only partially succeeded in mobilising the much needed revenue.