2016 proved to be a tough year for the Punjab government with the apex court ruling on the vexed Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal issue coming as a setback while the Pathankot attack and the sensational Nabha jailbreak raised serious questions on the state’s security apparatus. Opposition Congress and AAP also made attempts to carve a space for themselves to ride on anti-incumbency against ruling Akalis.
The state saw a series of killings and murders including that of top RSS leader Brig Jagdish Singh Gagneja (Retd) in Jalandhar, Chand Kaur, wife of former head of Mandhari Sect in Ludhiana and Punjab Shiv Sena leader Durga Prasad Gupta at Khanna besides attack on Sikh preacher Ranjit Singh Dhandharianwale.
Besides deteriorating law and order situation, the government also grappled with the menace of drugs, prostitution and gangsters. Desecration of the Sikh holy book continued unabated in the state, creating tension at several areas. Amid its bid to gain a stronger foothold in Punjab, AAP faced rebellion by its members and also charges of corruption by few who got tickets.
Sucha Singh Chhotepur’s removal from the post of state party convener and his counter attack at Delhi coterie threw a big challenge for AAP. Not ending here, Chhotepur, who built up the party in the state, floated Apna Punjab Party (APP).
AAP superimposing its symbol (broom) with the Golden Temple picture for the cover page of its youth manifesto, drew sharp criticism from Akalis and Congress. For damage control, Arvind Kejriwal dashed to Golden temple and cleaned utensils but not with much success.
Kejriwal made several long-duration visits to Punjab during which he flagged twin issues of farm suicides and drugs. The Supreme Court holding as ‘unconstitutional’ the 2004 law passed by Punjab government to terminate the SYL canal water sharing agreement with neighbouring states came as a shocker for ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP alliance.
All 42 Congress legislators and party’s Amritsar MP and state Congress chief Amarinder Singh also resigned in protest. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has asserted ‘not a drop of water’ will be allowed to be taken out of the state. Akalis blamed Congress and AAP for the fiasco on SYL issue while the Opposition left no stone unturned to put the government on the mat over the matter.
The state assembly unanimously adopted a resolution ‘directing’ the SAD-BJP combine government not to ‘hand over land to any agency’ and also ‘not to allow anyone to work for the construction of SYL’. The Badal government passed the resolution. The state assembly also adopted another resolution asking the state government to take up with Centre and neighbouring states the issue of levying ‘cost and royalty’ for the water released.
Both Congress and AAP claimed the Nabha jailbreak incident as a handiwork of deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal so that he can use these gangsters in 2017 Assembly polls against his rivals but the government blamed Pakistan saying it was out to disturb peace in the state. The last Assembly session of Punjab, in which all political parties participated, ended in a chaos. Congress MLA Tarlochan Sondh hurled a shoe at treasury benches and Opposition Congress members continued to protest inside and outside the Vidhan Sabha for two consecutive days, including nights.
The results of Khadoor Sahib assembly by-poll sprang no surprises as SAD candidate Ravinder Singh Brahmpura, son of party MP Ranjeet Singh Brahmpura, won the one-horse race after Congress and AAP boycotted the election. Badal family remained in the firing line of Congress and AAP as buses owned by it were involved in several road accidents and deaths.
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi also visited the state and on his first trip to Dera Radha Soami Satsang Beas, he raked up the issue of drug menace and lawlessness. Union Minister Vijay Sampla was elected as new Punjab BJP chief. He took reigns from Kamal Sharma. Modi’s ‘Make in India’ had little resonance in Punjab where industry remained in the throes of crisis. Several major units shifted base to other states and smaller one preferred to shut down due to alleged anti-industry policies of the state.
Punjab’s Muslim dominated town of Malerkotla remained tense in June following violence over alleged desecration of the holy book. AAP MLA of Delhi Naresh Yadav was arrested in this connection which later turned out to be a wrong catch by police. Kamal Nath became Punjab Congress in charge but after fearing row over his alleged role in 1984 riots that could dampen party’s prospects he was in no time replaced by Asha Kumari.
The state also witnessed a row over drug-themed Bollywood film “Udta Punjab”. In an embarrassment for the SAD-BJP combine government, the Punjab and Haryana High court in August set aside the appointments of 24 Chief Parliamentary Secretaries (CPS).
Amid bashing of mainstream parties, cricketer-turned- politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, suspended SAD MLA Pargat Singh and Independent legislators Balwinder Singh Bains and Simarjit Singh Bains launched ‘Awaaz e Punjab’, a non-political forum for ‘resurrection of debt ridden and economically weakened Punjab’.
Later Pargat along with Sidhu’s wife Navjot Kaur, a MLA from Amritsar East, joined the Congress. However, Sidhu kept his cards close to his chest. Two years after registering a case in the country’s largest ponzi scam, CBI arrested Pearls Group CMD Nirmal Singh Bhangoo in January for allegedly swindling more than five crore investors of Rs 45000 crore by luring them with attractive land deals.
Good news came for Punjab when Modi laid the foundation stone of AIIMS at Bathinda. Punjab also got a new governor V K Singh Badnore relieving Haryana governor Kaptan Singh Solanki of the charge. Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), considered to be mini-parliament of Sikhs got new president Kirpal Singh Badungar replacing Avtar Singh Makkar.