Congress’ change of CM unlikely to sway Punjab’s voters

Unkept promises and lack of development have left a bitter taste among citizens

A few metres from Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s residence in Punjab’s Morinda town, standing at the Dholan Majra ‘chowk’ (intersection) with his handcart, 57-year-old Ashok Kumar, a fruit juice vendor, is unimpressed by the many poll promises from different political parties.

Unhappy over the pot-holed, slushy road that hurts his business, Mr. Kumar is miffed over the indifferent attitude of authorities and successive governments including the ruling Congress towards addressing concerns of common people.

“I use to station my handcart in the main market earlier, but after the nationwide lockdown, I shifted here (Dholan Majra chowk) in hope of better business. It’s been over one and a half years since I am selling fruit juice here, but the condition of this road continues to worsen. In the dry season it’s all dusty and when it rains the potholes are filled with water – the result is that people avoid stopping for a glass of juice and that hurts my business,” he says.

“Recently work to repair the road and pavements has started but it’s at a sluggish pace. The last time I voted for the Congress party, but this time I am yet to decide. Politicians promise a lot during election campaigning but then conveniently forget once the elections are over,” says a despondent Mr. Kumar just days ahead of polling scheduled for February 20.

Mr. Kumar’s disillusioment with the Congress is echoed by others who say the party cannot escape from its unkept promises by changing the Chief Minister at the fag end of its term.

At the Sunil Pandit chowk, a youngster at his father’s vegetable shop, who otherwise works as a daily wager, says he no longer has expectations from politicians.

“Whoever wins, it’s not going to make any difference in my life. It’s only the people close to these leaders and politicians that derive benefits; the common man is left to fight his/her own battle. Several promises were made by Congress, but most are unkept. Employment is the key issue for me. I am into white-washing work, the work is limited to a few months of the year. I don’t have a permanent source of income, which is the major concern for me,” he says.

Morinda is a town in Chamkaur Sahib (Scheduled Caste) constituency, which Mr. Channi has represented thrice in the Assembly. He is yet again contesting from this seat, apart from the Bhadaur, (SC) constituency in Barnala district as well. The issue of anti-incumbency and allegations of patronizing illegal sand mining, which Mr. Channi has strongly denied, are talking points with several people agitated over long term problems that plague the area. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has fielded Dr. Charanjit Singh, while Harmohan Singh Sandhu is the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bahujan Samaj Party nominee and Darshan Singh Shivjot is contesting from the BJP.

Perturbed over poor amenities in the town, Jaspal Singh, who runs a daily needs shop near Vishwakarma Chowk, points out that the traffic signals at the intersection have been non-functional for at least three years now, resulting in traffic chaos, especially during the rush hours. “People continue to face the problem, but the authorities continue to be in deep slumber,” he says.

At his shop, 45-year-old Harjit Singh is not amused by Mr. Channi’s claim of ‘delivering on promises’ in his a little over hundred days as Chief Minister. Mr. Harjit says, “The leaders have become businessmen. Their only aim is to work for their own welfare and not for the public. Even though Mr. Channi – the MLA from our constituency became the Chief Minister, yet I am not hopeful of any change of state of affairs under the Congress.”

Pointing at the near-overflowing drains on the main road, Mr. Harjit said, “The drainage and sewerage disposal systems are in poor condition and people continue to suffer. After Mr. Channi became the Chief Minister, the re-carpeting work of the Morinda road and laying of new road tiles started, but why was all this work was not done earlier when he was a Cabinet Minister? Does one need to be a CM for getting such works to be done? Mr. Channi is claiming that he has delivered on promises in over 100 days of his being the Chief Minister, but the Congress will have to give answers about the entire five years of its rule, they can’t escape the responsibility of not fulfilling the previous poll promises just by changing the Chief Minister, and blame him (previous Chief Minister) for government’s failures. In a school, the performance of a student is analyzed for the entire year. It’s not just based on the result of a one-term examination. The allegations of illegal sand mining surrounding Mr. Channi’s relatives will also be a big factor in my mind before I cast my vote,” he says.

Echoing the general discontent, a tea vendor near the Chief Minister’s residence asserted that the contest is going to be a tough one for the Congress given the anti-incumbency.

“All the political parties are in a close fight. The Congress had been in government. Naturally, people will seek an answer from them on their 2017 election promises. People like me are fed up with empty promises. I toil hard by selling tea to make my ends meet. I am worried that with growing age when I am not in a position to work. Then how will I sustain myself,” asks the 65-year-old.

While Mr. Channi has made several announcements and kicked-off development work in his constituency after the resignation of Captain (retd.) Amarinder Singh, the weight of anti-incumbency and allegations against his close family are likely to prove tough to shake off.

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