ਤਖਤਿ ਬਹੈ ਤਖਤੈ ਕੀ ਲਾਇਕ ॥
The Deserving alone deserve to Rule
Alexander Pope, the famous 18th century British classical poet in his well-known long philosophical poem “Essay on man” writes:
“For forms of government let fools content,
Whatever is administered best is the best.”
From the beginning of social life on this planet earth various forms of governments like monarchy, dictatorship, ideological totalitarian party governance, presidential form of governance, and liberal democratic form of governance have been tested and tried in different regions of the world. Each form of governance has its own merits and demerits. Neither of these forms have been absolutely free from blemish nor completely blamesworthy. All the experiments with various models of governance made so far all over the world boil down to the truth that it is not the form of governance which matters but the quality and character of men/ women who govern and administer a State. Men of integrity and impeccable character can make even a monarchy or an autocracy acceptable to the masses while men with deprived character and conscience, prone to raise personal fortunes out of public positions, can make even the best form of governance a complete disaster and failure. Such people with leaky and porous hearts and minds, given public office, tend to become collaborators with the economic offenders instead of becoming defenders and protectors of State’s and peoples’ interests. Unfortunately, this latter brand of elected representatives have been in governance in the State of Punjab for a period of more than last two decades, a state with a Sikh majority of small marginal farmers, medium size industrial entrepreneurs and with a very little services sector. From being a comparatively prosperous and economically viable state in the mid twentieth century, it has been continuously witnessing an economic downslide and suffering from mounting state in debtedness. The reasons for this economic deterioration are not far to seek. It is the State’s rulers who are blameworthy for this economic mess rather than the enterpring, hard working farmers, entreprenaurs and workers of the State. What makes this allegation stick and visible to the public eye is the enormous rise in the personal fortunes of some of these politicians who have been in power, especially the top brass whose assets have increased at a speed inversely proportional to the States’ economic indices. It would be befitting to analyse the graph of the two main political dispensations which have been governing Punjab almost alternatively during these decades and look for the possibility of a third alternative which may bing about an economic, social and cultural turn about in the State and provide succor to the toiling masses of Punjab and create some employment avenues for the highly unemployed and underemployed youth of Punjab. Before we explore the possibility of an emergence of a third alternative or a new dispensation which may hopefully endeavour to revive the heavily indebted state economy and put under leash the existing drug cartels and several other mafias and cleanse the toxic culture of Punjab, it would be befitting to critically evaluate the graph of the two existing dominant political dispensations.
First, regards the record of the main Sikh representative and traditional regional political party, the Akali Dal, which has been in power for a fairly long period since the reorganization of Punjab on linguistic basis, it performance has been less than inspiring and steadfastly regressive. Despite some of the development projects such as the completion of a network of highways, two, three airports and making the State power surplus during its periodic spells of being in power, it has reneged completely on its political agenda of bringing back the left out punjabi speaking areas, the restoration of the arbitrarily taken away Punjab’s river waters, getting back the State Capital Chandigarh and reducing the burgeoning mountain of State indebtedness. Moreover, the high ways and airports which have come up in the state during their tenure have come up with the central investment and the surplus power generation has been created by brining in private entrepreneurs at terms and conditions highly unfavourable both to the State and its consumers. Instead of the consistent and holistic development of the State on a long term basis, its rule has been marked with economically unviable populist measures, decline in investment in fundamental sectors such as Public health and education, consistently deficit annual budgets and increasing state indebtedness. Instead of strengthening the state infrastructure in public transport, research and development in agriculture by increasing investment in Agriculture universities and extension institutions, it has been promoting and patronizing private vested interests in these key areas. It leadership instead of eliminating drug, liquor, land and sand mafias during its rule, has been perceived to be collaborating with these vested interests inimical to the State’s economy and culture. Films like Udta Punjab, damaging the State’s reputation has been the product of this period. Its leadership’s excessive lust for power and pelf became synonymous with unbridled loot and plunder of the State exchequer in the public mind. It parternership with the Hindutva oriented Bhartiya Janta Party both at the centre and the state, instead of brining any economically beneficial projects to the state, inhibited its powers to demand more powers for the state and strengthen the inbuilt federal structure. Apart from its lapses on the economic front, the most objectionable action an its part has been its ostrich like attitude towards blatant acts of sacrilege including its manipulation of the topmost Sikh clergy and triggering first a grant of pardon to the anti-Sikh dera Chief for his blasphemous act and then getting the granted pardon withdrawn under public protest and its excessive interference in SGPC management. Late S Harcharan Singh’s book, Shromani Committee di Vartman sathiti (2020), written after resigning from his nearly two year’s stint as the SGPC’s Chief executive, lays bare the glaring acts of financial corruption indulged in by some of the politically patronized managers of the bigger Sikh shrines and gross misappropriation of Gurdwara funds and violation of settled rules in the execution of bigger financial transactions during the grant of construction contracts and agricultural lands lease grants of Gurdwara properties. The most repulsive event which bruised rather badly lacerated the collective Sikh psyche of the Sikhs all over the globe was the theft and desecration of the holy swaroop of the sacred Guru Granth Sahib from a village Gurdwara and then its subsequent desecration and later on two incidents of police firing on the peaceful Sikh protests in which two devout Sikh youths were mercilessly killed during its rule. What irked the Sikh community, more than the heinous acts of sacrilege was first its ostrich like attitude towards these repulsive events and then its failure in arresting and prosecuting the guilty criminals and equally blameworthy trigger happy State officials during its rule. The occurance of these events and failure of this political dispensation to accept moral responsibility for its occurance has completely lowered its credibility among the Sikh masses and the general populace of the state. Despite the severe beating that it has received during the subsequent election to the State legislature by losing even the status of an opposition party in the present legislature, its stock among the people due to its acts of consistent financial bungling, administrative misdemeaneurs and overt and covert role in the acts of sacrilege is still very low. The voters of Punjab would loath to cast their votes in their favour if given a better choice.
The other political alternative before the people of Punjab is the national level political party, the Indian National Congress which has been in power in Punjab almost alternatively and is now in power and suffers from a serious crisis of faith and breach of public trust. Despite its tall promises made at the time of election in 2017, some promises solemnly made under an oath, it has miserably failed to fulfill even a fraction of those tall promises. It had solemnly promised to eliminate the pervasive drug menace within days of coming to power, write off the marginal farmers’ debt, provide employment to at least one member per family and bring to justice all those who were responsible for the henius acts of sacrilege during its predecessor’s rule and put under leash all the mafias controlling illicit land, liquor and mining and sand trade in the State. In addition to these unfulfilled promises, its governance of the State bears the stamp of being run by a feudal chief, inaccessible not only to the general public but even to some of its own elected legislators, and the key portfolios being controlled by an extra-constitutional band of advisers and retired bureaucrats. Now when its tenure is coming to a close and fresh legislative elections are only a few months away, it has nothing worthwhile among its achievements to present before the public of the State. To use an analogy of a sinking ship, even some of its own cabinet members seem to be berating its own leadership and hinting at their desertion. Unfortunately, its national leadership constituting the party’s high command is as indecisive and faction ridden as its state unit. All its legislators including its ministers seems to have split down the middle mainly on the issue of unkept promises. This kind of factional fight among the legislators just a few months before the next election bodes ill for this political dispensation. The biggest victim of this factional acrimony is the State, its economy and its helpless citizens. The daily mass protests by qualified temporarily employed contractual teachers and other employees and unemployed youth bring discredit to this ruling political dispensation.
Hopes of its return to power under the present leadership are receding by the day. In such a situation, when both the established political dispensations lack public trust and credibility and their stock is at an all time low what is the alternate choice before the hapless electorate of the State. While the Bhartiya Janta Party seems to be facing an existential crisis in the State, the left parties are disoriented and the offshoot of the Delhi based Aam Admi Party is too infant, too small and too less deep-rooted in Punjab soil to provide a viable alternative. But politics seldom allows a vacuum to exist. Since the prospects of a coalition between the two main contenders are bleak in the post poll scenario in the event of a hung house due to their ideological differences, it will be a miracle of sorts if an altogether new alternative comes up a little before the election time.
Without pretending to be having any powers of clairvoyance, it is still worthwhile to do some exercise at crystal gazing and see if the currently going on All India farmers’ agitation primarily led by more than two dozen farmers’ unions of Punjab at the borders of India’s capital can throw an altogether new political dispensation at a short notice to enter into the coming electoral fray? What inspires the possibility of emergence of such a viable dispensation is the daily display of complete synergy among the different organizations, maturity of its joint leadership and timely and appropriate decisions taken from time to time. Added to these assets are its intellectually clear-headed grasp of major farm issues and the essentially corporate character of the newly passed farm laws by the central government under duress from a handful of corporate conglomerates and the remarkable capacity of this leadership to carry on this agitation for more than seven months and maintenance of complete unity despite all the desperate efforts made by the central Government’s and surrounding BJP ruled State’s intelligence agencies’ to sabotage and derail this unique agitation. Despite bearing the tag of being a farmers’ agitation, it has the whole heard support and equally active participation of agricultural and Industrial labourers, shopkeepers and traders, students, teachers, women, youth, employees and retired senior citizens including retired bureaucrats, farm experts academicians and almost all the political parties with the exception of BJP only. The meticulous planning for sustaining this agitation for a long haul with the provision of improvised comfortable accommodation for the protesters, supply of nutritions meals and medical facilities at the various agitation sites speaks volumes for the maturity, vision and organizational skill of the farmers leadership. What makes this movement a model public crusade like India’s independence movement is its enduring patience, perseverance, non-violent peaceful protest and mass participation of people across all castes, classes, regions, religions and ideological allegiances. This agitation is a demonstration of this cooperative interactive leadership fully alive to the problems and aspirations of the people and completely free from the cult of one upmanship and any personal vested interests. Its clear headed understanding of the corporate agenda behind the hurriedly passed anti-farm laws without following proper legislative procedures, public and parliamentary debate by a captive government and its dogged determination to get these anti-people laws annulled clearly reveals its potential for providing ideal leadership at the political level as well. It is in the arc of possibility that a new political leadership in Punjab may emerge from this peoples’ movement in the midst of daily factional fights in the presently ruling political dispensation and the other highly discredited regional and Sikh representative party. In this highly murky, exploitative and corruption-ridden existing political atmosphere, let us hope and pray for the emergence of a clean, dedicated and visionary leadership for Punjab and its hapless people. Nothing is impossible, nor is reversal of situation and sudden emergence of order out of total chaos and disorder an exception.
ਤਖਤਿ ਬਹੈ ਤਖਤੈ ਕੀ ਲਾਇਕ ॥
ਪੰਚ ਸਮਾਏ ਗੁਰਮਤਿ ਪਾਇਕ ॥ – Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1039