It is a coincidence that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab is going to complete one year in mid-March, but other than that this border state is currently in news for all the wrong reasons. Comedian-turned-politician Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, 49, grapples with troubling circumstances that are creating an explosive amalgam of politics, religion and social fabric.

This border state of the country is in a state of disrepair and needs immediate reform measures. Whether one looks in the social realm or in the strategic realm of being a border state, anyone who remembers the ’80s would not want to see that happen again. For decades, Punjab’s politics has been bipolar and power has rotated between the two dominant parties—the Akali Dal and the Congress. Both these parties have more or less ruled for a long time. But in March 2022 it changed. AAP nearly wiped out both the Congress and the Akalis by winning 92 of the total 117 seats in the assembly. This was a historic change, as it became very clear that both the parties had lost the confidence of the voters and they gave a chance to an inexperienced party like AAP. AAP President and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal promised to transform the state according to Delhi’s model.

But till now Mann and AAP have been pretending to be better than the reality. At present, unrest is visible in the entire state. Religious fanaticism, rampant gangster violence are spreading and endless voices of protest from the agricultural domains are being raised. Perhaps most worrying is the law and order situation, which has steadily worsened since AAP came to power. It started with the murder of singer Sidhu Musewala in broad daylight. It was the early days of the Mann government then, so there was a excuse in case of direct blame. After all, these situations were being created even before the formation government. But religion-based violence is threatening Punjab. Sudhir Suri, a staunch Hindutva and a dera follower accused in a sacrilege case, was murdered in November. Now, last week, the sword-wielding faction of budding Sikh fundamentalist Amritpal Singh Sandhu presented a bizarre scenario of gheraoing the Ajnala police station and the administration coming to its knees soon after.

Amritpal, the new flag bearer of Khalistan, has even threatened the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. But despite openly spewing hate speeches, he seems to have stayed out of the radar of central agencies, which are often seen taking action in minor matters.

Apart from the strange mix of law and order situation, gangsters and religious fundamentalism, such slippage is visible in other matters of governance as well. The economy of Punjab is on a continuous decline. Its debt to GSDP ratio this year is expected to be 47.6 per cent, which is double the Finance Commission’s limit of 20 per cent for states. The AAP government has pushed it towards the pit. By the end of January this year, the state had to borrow Rs 35,000 crore in just 10 months of the AAP government. The consolidated debt of Rs 2.83 lakh crore is revealed in the state’s ledger. The revenue is expected to be less than one-third in this financial year at Rs 95,378 crore.

The apprehension is that by the end of FY ’23, the debt will cross Rs 3 lakh crore. This grim picture is further clouded by the fact that by the end of December, the state could achieve only 65.86 per cent of its revenue target. According to the promise made in July, the subsidy for providing 300 units of electricity free of cost is draining the exchequer. Clearly, the AAP’s famous model of offering free or cheap basic amenities in Delhi on the basis of high revenue margins is not working in the same way in Punjab. Now the situation is such that the government is also struggling to pay salaries; For this, the State Electricity Department had to borrow Rs 500 crore.

As a political figure, Mann gives the impression that he is not self-sufficient, but remote-controlled from the party’s Delhi high command. His mistakes are like those of a complete novice. For example, BMW denied his claim during a visit to Germany that it was setting up a factory in Punjab; The gangster himself came on TV channels and denied his claim of Goldie Brar’s arrest in America. What is more worrying is that he has not yet demonstrated the skill and experience that is required for a Punjab going through a serious crisis. Religious sentiments are on the boil again. Old Khalistan supporters like Simranjit Singh Mann are overwhelmingly elected to Parliament, protesters are demanding the release of prisoners convicted of terrorism, and self-styled ‘hermits’ like Amritpal challenge the state as well as the Centre.

Deputy editor Anilesh S., who keeps a keen eye on his home state. Mahajan also looks at the positive in our cover story this week. For example, the increase in the minimum support price of moong dal will reduce the excessive dependence of farmers on paddy, similarly one legislator, one pension scheme; 500 ‘Aam Aadmi’ clinics and other welfare schemes are good steps. But there are also ominous signs in his words: “Punjab, mired in communal violence for two decades, is witnessing a new social upheaval. The reason for AAP’s resounding victory in March 2022 was the farmers’ protests in 2020-21 and the restlessness stemming from the socio-economic crisis and a deep desire for change.

But the Mann government’s inexperience and intent to implement the ‘Delhi model’ has plunged the state into a serious financial crisis.” The cooperation of the Center should be obtained for the solution of this, so that the true ‘Punjab Model’ emerges. “Anarchy is not a trough…anarchy is a ladder,” says one of the protagonists in the popular web series Game of Thrones, which has many parallels with the ongoing power play in Punjab. Mann will have to climb that ladder to recover from the state’s troubled past. Shadows don’t bother us again. Failure is not an option.

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