Punjab Speaks: Deepening divide between politics and people

AAP Punjab election campaign

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On Lok Sabha poll trail, Punjab intelligentsia laments disconnect between politics & people

Punjab will vote for the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections on June 1. On trails of electioneering, the people’s issues such as agrarian distress, drugs abuse, law and order situations, unemployment, gang wars, and migration to western countries no longer find space in the central political debate.

The focus has shifted to candidates changing parties overnight, leading to moral dilemma for voters. The mood of the people could be seen in their common refrain — ‘if a candidate is not true to an ideology or a political party, how can he be honest to the people of Punjab’.

Once termed as ‘Rangla Punjab’, the border state is rechristened as ‘Jujhda Punjab’ and ‘Udta Punjab’. But do the political parties really feel the pulse of the people.

The scenario may be depicted as political party vs the people, rather than political parties for the people of Punjab, according to the common refrain of the voters. Farmers, blocking railway lines, are openly gheraoing leaders who have “betrayed their causes”.

Will this election be a turning point for the people of Punjab? Bhawna Malik finds out by speaking to a cross-section of the people in Punjab.

Prof. Dr Satnam Singh Sandhu is an educationist, as well as an editor, from Patiala in Punjab. Speaking on urgency of issues concerning Punjab, Dr. Sandhu considers the farmers’ movement at the Singhu and the Shambhu borders as the core issue.

For him, the agrarian crisis has reached the peak. “Once Punjab led the economic index, and now it is under huge debt. Delaying tactics by the government on the MSP (Minimum Support Price) issue, loan waiver has caused a great damage to the economy of Punjab,” said Dr Sandhu.

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He is an Editor in chief of ‘The Punjab Heritage’, while also being Chairman of GN Girls college, Patiala.  He has authored thirteen books.

“The small-scale industries have almost collapsed in Punjab. Once Ludhiana and Khanna were leaders in Hosiery business. Mandi Gobindgarh was an industrial town. But now malls in Punjab stock Chinese products,” added Dr Sandhu.

He argued that “Punjab is facing a gap between expectations and resources. Hence youth are migrating.” “The international exposure has added to expectations and the youth have developed a sense of alienation from Punjab. It’s common news that the youth are dying due to the overdose of drugs. A clear planning and leadership crisis is visible in Punjab,” added Dr Sandhu.

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He stressed that gang wars are the new normal after the Siddhu Moosewala killing. “The public issues and commitments of political leaders to the people have been unfulfilled. The government promised that each woman would get ₹1,000 monthly. Where is that,” asked Dr Sandhu.

He further explained that technical advancement is lessening dependence on manpower. “In Punjab, the retail stores, food outlets and multi brand stores are offering ‘C’ category basic level jobs — of drivers, shelf-fillers — but educated youth want education appropriate jobs. The Universities must upgrade themselves and offer new skill sets to the students and make them market ready,” noted Dr Sandhu.

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He further mentioned that previously “two out of 10 UPSC-selected candidates would hail from Punjab”. “The Defense sector was dominated by the people from Punjab. The permanent appointments of the lecturers have been pending for the past 15 years,” he added.

He also underlined the emergence of a new phenomenon as private universities in the state mostly have students from outside Punjab. “There is a dire need to understand demographic attributes of products and skill sets must be developed. Vegetables and fruits are wasted for lack of technology to increase their shelf life. Same is the case with poultry, milk products and crops. The new courses of B. Tech in Food preservation, water conservation, environment conservation must be introduced,” said Dr Sandhu, while also underlining water crisis.

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He also noted that while Bhatinda and Mansa are cotton belts of Punjab and the cotton is damaged by a particular red-coloured insect, but no research has been initiated to tackle this issue.

“The cotton mills are closed in Punjab,” added Dr Sandhu. He also flagged the issue of the lack of storage capacity for foodgrains in Punjab.

“We need to promote industries around cotton, textile and grapes. No manifesto of political parties is based on social, cultural and economic issues,” he lamented.

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