Punjab's ruling elite 'introspects' in Goa! (Punjab Newsletter)

By Jaideep Sarin, Chandigarh, April 12 : Beaches, casinos, an evening cruise in five-star luxury and even a chartered flight. That was Punjab ruling elite's way of "introspection" in Goa while the cash-strapped SAD-BJP government struggled to pay salaries to its employees.

Over 150 ministers, legislators, MPs and other senior leaders of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine descended on Goa between April 7-10 for a 'Chintan Shivir' (introspection camp) at the Fort Aguada and the Taj Holiday Village just outside Goa capital Panaji.

Though media reports did not suggest anything substantial being achieved during the camp, the trip ran up a bill running into several lakhs of rupees.

"All this luxury was happening at a time when Punjab's own finances are in a very bad shape. Salaries to the government employees were delayed this month. The government is doing things on borrowed money. This is going to create a financial mess," a senior government officer told IANS here.

The idea for the Goa sojourn was of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the Akali Dal president and the main power-centre in Punjab. He made a nearly five-hour long power-point presentation to the Akali-BJP leaders during the introspection camp.

It is quite another matter that a number of Akali Dal leaders, commonly referred to as 'jathedars' (group leaders) have no idea about power-point presentations!

Badal junior's presentation was an exercise in self-praise with no concrete solutions offered for the future of the debt-ridden state.

"Some of our colleagues had not even seen a beach in their lives. Some others had not been to Goa earlier. It was a great holiday and we all bonded well with each other with so much time at hand and no worries about people lining up for their work," a two-time Akali Dal legislator said.

Badal junior, a businessman himself with interests in hotels and real estate, runs the Akali Dal, which is normally associated with ageing leaders with flowing grey beards, like a corporate entity.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, 85, who was not initially to enthusiastic about the Goa trip, not only gave in to his son and political heir's idea but even ended up saying that more such trips should be organised annually.

The opposition Congress was quick chide the Akali Dal-BJP leaders for their expensive sojourn.

"The Chintan sammelan at Goa was discussing irrelevant issues and failed to give any solution to the current problems of state," newly appointed Punjab Congress president Pratap Singh Bajwa said.

Leader of Opposition Sunil Jakhar was more candid.

"Instead of relishing the five star facilities in Goa, the SAD-BJP government should do a 'chintan' that despite a 400 percent rise in in legislators salaries, what was the compulsion to enhance the rates of health services besides imposing fees on poor children," he asked.

"The Badal government should publicly display the facts and expenditure which led to the increase in the state's debt to Rs.38,109 crore and that of the public sector to Rs.69,270 crore in the last six years despite the fact that the state's income has enhanced manifold," Jakhar added.

For the ruling party leaders though, the beaches, casinos, dinners, evening cruise and the chartered flight left no room to give a thought to problems being faced by Punjab.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

--IANS (Posted on 12-04-2013)

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