Kejriwal seeks to win power in Punjab with a freebie of power
There is no gainsaying the fact that once a prosperous state in the country is today Punjab is a poor state inhabited by rich people. They are the people who dine, dance and lead a life of janoon and joviality. And above all, they are the people who derive a great sense of pleasure in being a perfect host to their relations, friends, acquaintances and others to the best of their heart. They are the people who never wish to leave their homes and hearths on the international borders to ensure that no one can cast an evil eye on their sacred motherland.
Whenever there have been wars between India and Pakistan with borders lit with enemy fire, it is these very people who politely defy government wish to move them to safer places. In the midst of volley of enemy fire they feel pleased and proud to reach with sumptuous and tasty home-made food for their soldier brethrens who have staked their life to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country.
Now that elections in Punjab are just about six months away, the atmosphere in the state seems to be warming up for the great battle of the ballet to decide who and which party should determine their fate for the next five years. It was in this situation that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal visited the State in the last week of June to throw the same gauntlet in Punjab with which it came to power in Delhi — the promise of providing 300 units of electricity free to every household every month.
The political and administrative elites who have the experience of watching the trend of elections in the country are aware of the fact that no party can win every election in every state with the same old, stale slogans and promises.
In Punjab —and elsewhere too — a common prayer to god om jai jagdish hare is sung in numerous houses every day saying that whatever they offer to god is whatever god had bestowed on them. The same is true of what Kejriwal has promised; he or his party is not going to give anything from their pocket. Whatever the cost of implementing this promise, every single paisa has to come from the state exchequer contributed by the people of Punjab in the form of taxes. It is just perfecting mastery on the art of jugglery of facts and words.
During the last assembly election campaign Kejriwal had raised a great cry over rising drug addiction, painting a scene as if every youth in the state was a drug addict. AAP and Congress were on the same wavelength on this issue. Kejriwal had held an Akali minister of being responsible for the situation and boldly declared that after the elections he would catch hold of the Akali minister by the collar and drag him to jail. But neither Congress nor the main opposition AAP joined hands to eradicate this malaise from the state during the last five years.
Kejriwal’s freebie of providing 300 units of electricity to every household of Punjab every month will further harm the state’s economy already reeling under the impact of annual power subsidy bill. The promise is likely to further push up the burden to more than `15,000 crores from the existing `10,668 crores (of which `6,735 crore is in free electricity for farmers) as all consumers will stand to benefit from this largesse.
Kejriwal went further. He has asked the people not to pay their power bills, promising that all the pending arrears of electric consumption will be waived off. This is an instigation to power consumers not to pay their current bills and wait for the AAP government to take over. This will further derail the power budget of the state. But what if people do not usher in an AAP government in Punjab?
It is a pity that once a prosperous state, Punjab has fallen into bad days because the successive governments played ducks and drakes with finances of the state. Terrorism in the state for about a decade had also depleted state’s revenues and adversely affected state’s industries.
State’s per capita income is `1,15,882 as against the national income of `41,16,067. Its per capita expenditure stands at `869 while the national average is `3,509. In social sector expenditure the state lags behind the national average of `8,981 with its figure being just `6,981. In per capita farm household indebtedness, according to 2009-10 budget, Punjab with `41,576 stands at the top while the all-India average is `12,585. In the decade since then it must have risen further.
In view of the hard facts, if AAP was voted to power it will need to strike a miracle to live up to its promise. It could either do it by burdening the people with more taxes or abandoning certain developmental projects. People will, thus, gain here at the cost of what they will lose elsewhere. In Delhi it has survived by charging the Modi government at the Centre of starving it of funds which it cannot do in Punjab.
Sooner or later, Kejriwal will come to realize that Punjab is not Delhi and vice versa.
By Amba Charan Vashishth
(The writer is a Delhi-based political analysts and commentator.)