Manpreet ready to fall in line, SAD hardliners push for acti
Terrorism ended in 1992 but the state’s debt has risen steadily during the last 18 years. — Manish Tewari, Cong spokesman
I will fall in line if that is what the party wants. But in financial matters, the Finance Minister should be given more elbow room. — Manpreet Badal, Punjab FM
The Disciplinary Committee will examine the series of events leading to the latest provocation. — RS Brahmpura, Akali leader
Chandigarh, October 10
The disciplinary committee of the Shiromani Akali Dal is meeting on Monday amidst growing demand by partymen that the finance minister Manpreet Badal be divested of his portfolio. While a mellowed and more cautious Manpreet Badal said on Sunday that he was ready to go along with the party on the Centre’s offer over loan-waiver, there were sufficient indication that knives are out to cut him down to size.
While the finance minister kept a low profile on Sunday and refused to be drawn into defending himself, he did say that there seemed to be an orchestrated campaign against him by party members and government officials. Reiterating that as finance minister he needed more elbow room in financial matters, Manpreet Badal quipped, “ All accords are not done through letters; it is only when the negotiations are completed that letters are exchanged.”
But the finance minister tacitly admitted that as of now there is no formal offer from New Delhi to waive Rs 35,000 crore of the state’s debt. His claim that the state has the offer and his belief that it is in the interest of the state to accept conditions laid down by the Centre, which led to the clamour against him. More than the waiver, however, his oblique criticism of the Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal’s ‘corporate style’ of functioning that raised the hackles of the kitchen cabinet.
The meeting of the disciplinary committee, which is packed with Manpreet baiters, assumes significance in view of the public spat between him and the Deputy Chief Minister. The committee chairman, Ranjit Singh Brahmpura said on Sunday that the committee will not only clarify what constitutes “anti-party” activity but will also examine the ‘entire sequence of events’ that led to the immediate provocation.
The committee includes the senior most leaders of the party - Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Balwinder Singh Bhundur, Gurdev Singh Badal and Tota Singh. All of them had roundly criticised Manpreet and his statements in the party’s Political Affairs Committee meeting last week. While a section in the Shiromani Akali Dal favours closure and is confident that Manpreet Badal can be prevailed upon to toe the party-line and the chapter can be closed with an admonishment a vocal section of the party believes that the finance minister can no longer be trusted. Even if he is made to fall in line this time, they believe, there is no certainty that he would not embarass the party again a few weeks down the line. This section favours expulsion or, in case that is not possible, they would like the Chief Minister to divest Manpreet Badal of his current portfolio. His mischief value would be much less, they are vociferously pointing out, as the education minister or the minister for sports and youth development.
Sunday’s developments indicated that in the battle of Badals , the Deputy CM has gained the upper hand and may well win the first round on Monday. The Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who is still recovering from the injuries he suffered following a fall at his residence and is unlikely to be discharged from the Post Graduate Institute ( PGI) before Tuesday, will miss the disciplinary committee meeting, convened on Monday afternoon at 4 pm.
Meanwhile, the Congress spokesman Manish Tewari told The Tribune, “ The entire debate is misconceived. The debate should have been on how and why the SAD-BJP government allowed the state’s debt to grow to a staggering Rs 71,000 crore.”
Tewari demanded a ‘White Paper’ on the state’s finances and called upon the state government to fix responsibility of the political parties, leaders and bureaucrats responsible for the state’s fiscal mess. Pointing out that the election in the state is due in a little more than a year’s time, Tewari wondered how the SAD-BJP government at the fag end of its term can make any long-term commitment to the Centre. The question is not if the Centre has made an offer to Punjab, he added, but what Punjab has asked from the Centre and what it has agreed to do in return.