Elections in mind, Punjab, Himachal mend fences


By: Satyakam Bharti
The neighboring states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh have just started a new chapter of cooperation in matters of mutual interest. The two chief ministers – Prem Kumar Dhumal and Prakash Singh Badal – met yesterday and decided to resolve various outstanding inter-state issues and explore possibilities of more joint ventures in the future. And they also announced several deals including transfer of 150MW power to Punjab during summer months, a ropeway from Anandpur Sahib to Naina Devi, completion of the Baddi-Seswan road link and work on the Shahnaher project among other.
But, only time will tell for how long the honeymoon would last. A few months back, while a Congress government was in power in Himachal, Punjab was highly critical of the hill state regarding one issue at least – the special tax holiday. In fact, time and again Punjab has been demanding from the centre to either withdraw the concession or to offer it a similar package. And Punjab’s unwillingness to complete the Baddi-Chandigarh road too is not hidden. So will the current Punjab government keep its promise?
Well, the current arrangement seems to be more out of compulsion rather than genuineness to help each other. It appears to be a well-planned strategy employed by the BJP and its allies to prepare the base for fighting the next Lok Sabha elections. So while the Congress made its intentions clear by offering loan waiver to farmers and several other incentives in the budget, the BJP plans to counter the measure by fostering new ties between states ruled by it and its allies.
The moving together of the two states makes sense as the two allies have understood that the Centre would not gift any new projects for them in the election year due to political reasons. Therefore, as a counter measure, they have decided to try and wrap up several pending projects that can be completed at the state level.
But how successful they will be at it, depends on several factors including of course, political compulsions. Past history shows that the neighboring states including Haryana have not been able to resolve several disputes and issues despite the same party ruling the state. The Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal issue is one matter where no regional leader wants to take any chances and therefore it remains a dispute between Punjab and Haryana. Similarly, in no way can Punjab afford its industry to resettle in Himachal Pradesh. So the feasibility of most of the agreements between the two chief ministers yesterday will remain under doubt until they actually take practical shape.

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  1. You are right when you say that, due to political complusions, the State Chief Ministers have issued a joint statement for aPublic consumption. The Akalis are on backfoot after the cong decided to bring `loan waver' as a major tool to be used in forthcoming elections. Under the pressure from its allies BJP, Me Badal might agree with Himachal CM, but he knows that, if SAD gets fewer seats in forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, the same allay shall treat it like unwanted bagage (SAD has already experienced this during 1998-2004 period under NDA) nor the hard core Akalis are comfortable with RSS – due its efforts to Hinduise the Sikhs. Look at the time table – the road is to be completed by 2009 and not before the end of 2008 (eventhough we expect the elections in march 2009) – the construction of this raod shouldn't take more than 6 months if full efforts are put in. So, one Headline or couple of Headlines and the same shall be remembered till next Headlines.

    Subhash Mendhapurkar

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