Monday, May 23News That Matters

Punjab’s Bhagwant Mann government has no time to waste because it faces significant obstacles. 

The Aam Aadmi Party won a historic victory in Punjab in only its second assembly election, led by Bhagwant Mann, who was sworn in as chief minister on Wednesday, owing to widespread dissatisfaction with conventional parties and an overwhelming desire for change. Despite the trappings and leftovers of abundance and prosperity, the Green Revolution’s birthplace and border state has been mired in crisis after crisis since emerging from a dark decade of militancy in the early 1990s. For the past 70 years, the Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal have alternated in power, failing to address the structural biases and inadequacies that have contributed to the state’s current predicament, favoring instead to paper over them with short-term gestures and initiatives with an eye on the next election. 

The people of Punjab have high hopes of the incoming AAP government, having delivered the party a landslide victory. This burden of hope must be dealt with by the party. It can’t be business as usual for the Mann administration. However, getting Punjab back on track will be a difficult and uphill battle. Not a hurriedly sketched strategy with simple or short-term gains, but a well-thought-out roadmap is what the state requires. While it will be tempting to go down the populist path, the government must muster the courage and judgement to avoid it. With a leader who is perceived as having a clean image at the helm, the party will need to use all of the political capital and space it has gained as a result of its decisive victory to enact tough policies while maintaining public trust. 

From banking to agriculture, industry to education and health, the state needs course correction in a variety of fields. As input rates skyrocketed, soil quality worsened, and the water table plummeted, the Green Revolution, while bringing vast gains to its farmers, also planted the seeds of future unrest. It was out of this desperation that the farm agitation arose. In the run-up to elections, successive governments talked about remedies, only to abandon them once in power. 

The government must lead by example and provide a hand; Punjab’s hardworking farmers will take care of the rest. The state’s finances are also in bad shape, with a debt of over Rs 3 lakh crore. Economists have shown how fixing revenue leakage across industries can aid in addressing the financial crisis. The unabated flood of narcotics is putting the future of the state in jeopardy, and the Mann government will have to fight the enormous powers behind this plague to get the state back on track. To stop the outflow of young people from the state, it must improve education, industry, and healthcare facilities. There are no simple answers. However, after a long period, a government gains the people’s trust and support. 

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