The controversy over invitations to the foundation-stone laying ceremony of a 300-bed satellite centre of the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in Sangrur district led to a sustained verbal battle between leaders of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and the opposition Congress.
The sad part of the whole controversy is that the political leaders from both sides failed to rise above their vested and petty interests - all of which was being done to claim credit for the project, to actually tell common people, especially in the cancer-affected Malwa belt, that the project was for the public benefit.
What fuelled the tension even more was the fact that the official function of the union health ministry was being attended by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi along with union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad while Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said that he had not even been invited despite his government giving 25 acres of land for the project free of cost.
Akali Dal leaders said they would hold a function at the same spot to honour Badal and his son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and confer medals on them for their role in bringing the institute to the state.
Badal shot off a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and even objected to the foundation stone function being held without him.
The letter even spoke at length about the sensitive issue of centre-state relations and the damage being done to the federal structure of the country. Badal contended that the centre-state relations were being strained by such actions. His government boycotted the event.
But Badal's claims on the issue seemed to be refuted by Azad, who, while addressing the gathering after the foundation-stone laying ceremony, said that he had himself called up Badal three days before the event and invited him personally.
He said that the director of PGIMER-Chandigarh had also invited the chief minister for the event.
However, taking on Badal, union Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari, who is the Congress MP from Ludhiana, said that for many projects built with central assistance, the Badal government never bothered to call the Congress leadership.
People in the state, and particularly the fertile Malwa belt (south of river Sutlej), must be wondering why the top leaders of the Akali Dal and the Congress were trying to outsmart each other on the issue of the foundation stone of a hospital.
For these leaders, public good, it seems, takes a backseat over their personal ambition to take credit and see their names on foundation stones.
Poor patients would, perhaps, never understand why so much money and effort is spent on functions for foundation stones when this sum could have been used to provide treatment to hundreds who actually need it.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
--IANS (Posted on 15-10-2013)