The ‘U-Turn Govt’: AAP Government's Growing Retractions In Punjab Cause Embarrassment For Kejriwal, Mann

Bhuvan Krishna

Sep 07, 2023, 01:25 PM | Updated 01:27 PM IST

CM Bhagwant Mann and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal.
CM Bhagwant Mann and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal.
  • According to Malvinder Singh Kang, the chief spokesperson of AAP, the withdrawal of multiple orders by the party government demonstrates their willingness to be flexible and democratic.
  • The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab has been making a series of announcements, only to retract them later on.

    Recently, the government withdrew a notification for zila parishad and panchayat samiti elections. This came just five days after they had already withdrawn two other notifications.

    The first one was about dissolving panchayats and the second one was a freeze on panchayat bank accounts.

    The opposition, which has constantly criticised Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann's government for its inexperience, now has another reason to attack the AAP.

    The Mann government has faced several setbacks regarding the panchayat issue.

    It all started with an ill-conceived order to dissolve the local bodies six months before their tenure was supposed to end.

    During the December 2018 elections, the panchayats were dominated by candidates affiliated with the Congress, who were the ruling party at the time.

    The AAP believed that their previous success in decimating the Opposition in the polls meant that the sentiment within the panchayats had also shifted in their favor.

    The Punjab AAP government faced a quick retreat due to the panchayat union filing a case in the High Court and the Opposition raising concerns about the matter.

    In response to the case filed by the panchayat union and the Opposition's involvement, Advocate General Vinod Ghai informed a Division Bench, consisting of Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha and Justice Vikas Bahl, that the government had decided to withdraw the 10 August notification that ordered the dissolution of the panchayat, last week.

    However, the Punjab government later issued an order to freeze the accounts of the panchayats. The Controller of Panchayats (Finance) implemented a restriction on withdrawals, except for salary payments.

    Shortly after, the Mann government rescinded the order due to its widespread circulation. This action was perceived as another attempt to exert control over the panchayats.

    Additionally, the AAP went above and beyond to support the PU polls, with ministers and MLAs taking the lead.

    The decision to hold elections for zilla parishads and panchayat samitis, which was included in the 10 August notification, has now been withdrawn.

    Akali Dal leader Parambans Singh Romana mocked the government's functioning by posting a picture of a traffic sign for 'U-turn' on X, suggesting it as the new election symbol for AAP.

    The attempt by the AAP government to shift the blame for the embarrassment caused, onto two senior bureaucrats from the Rural Development and Panchayat Departments, did not convince many.

    The Opposition argued that a decision of such magnitude could not have been made solely at the officer level.

    The government's embarrassment was further compounded by the emergence of file notings on the panchayat dissolution order, which clearly bore the signatures of Chief Minister Mann and Rural Development and Panchayats Minister Laljit Singh Bhullar.

    Prior to the panchayat controversy, the Mann government had submitted to the High Court in February that it would revoke the orders to remove Manish Gulati as Punjab State Women Rights Commission chairperson.

    Gulati, who was appointed by the previous Congress government, had taken the matter to the High Court.

    During the same month, the government faced accusations of weak surrender after the release of Lovepreet Singh Tufan, an associate of radical leader Amritpal Singh, following protests in Ajnala. Tufan had been arrested on charges including kidnapping, while Amritpal and 25 others were also accused in the case.

    Following Tufan's arrest, supporters of Amritpal caused unrest at the Ajnala police station, resulting in injuries to at least six police personnel, including an officer. High-ranking officers, including Amritsar Police Commissioner Jaskarn Singh and SSP (Rural) Satinder Singh, arrived at the police station and engaged in direct negotiations with Amritpal.

    The Mann government imposed a ban on the use of modified carts, known as "jugaad rehris," in the state last year due to safety concerns.

    However, after facing protests, the government decided to lift the ban. Mann, who was present at the meeting, criticised officials for their decision to ban the rehris.

    The government's change of stance on the issue came after criticism from Opposition parties. They accused the AAP of not truly caring for the poor, despite their claims of representing the common man.

    There was a recent order from the Local Bodies Department to clear roadside encroachments, including rehris. However, this order was later withdrawn.

    The Mann government's inconsistency in their decisions has raised concerns among the public. Their actions seem to contradict their initial promises and have left many questioning their true intentions.

    The issue at hand has sparked a debate about the government's priorities and their commitment to the welfare of the people. The flip-flopping decisions have only added to the confusion and frustration among the citizens.

    Last year in April, the Mann government faced a similar situation when it had to address the issue of arrest warrants issued to farmers for unpaid debts to cooperative banks.

    This became a political matter, leading Finance Minister Harpal Cheema to release a video message assuring that no farmer would be arrested. Cheema attempted to shift the blame to the previous Congress government, stating that the process of issuing arrest warrants was initiated by former cooperatives minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa.

    However, Randhawa promptly refuted these claims, asserting that the Congress government had not issued any arrest warrants to farmers during its tenure.

    In response to the controversy, the Mann government instructed administrative secretaries from all departments to inform the Chief Minister of any decisions that could negatively impact the general public, particularly vulnerable sections, before implementation.

    Then, in May of the same year, the government decided to withdraw security provided to 424 individuals, including former Akal Takht jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh. This decision sparked a controversy, leading the government to reinstate the jathedar's security. However, he declined to accept it.

    According to Malvinder Singh Kang, the chief spokesperson of AAP, the withdrawal of multiple orders by the party government demonstrates their willingness to be flexible and democratic.

    Regarding the panchayat episode, Kang argued that the proposal had been initiated by the Panchayats Department and any omission was the fault of the officers involved.

    He claimed that the government has now corrected the course of action and that the Chief Minister had been misguided by these officers.

    Bhuvan Krishna is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

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