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Posted at: Dec 3, 2017, 12:36 AM; last updated: Dec 3, 2017, 12:36 AM (IST)

In Punjab, opposite ‘cultures’ collide

Ruchika M Khanna in Chandigarh
In Punjab, opposite ‘cultures’ collide
Former Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal at a sangat darshan in Fatehgarh Churian. File photo
For people in Punjab, it’s been a 360-degree change in governance in the past one year: from a five-time CM who believed in public outreach through his sangat darshans, to a chief minister whose public outreach is tech savvy —  through his Twitter handle and an aggressive public relations team.

While Parkash Singh Badal held almost four sangat darshan programmes in a week (he continues to hold these darbars even now, meeting his party workers and constituents), his successor, Capt Amarinder Singh, prefers to keep his public outreach restricted through social media. “Not only are sangat darshan programmes a drain on the already stretched state resources, these are also akin to usurping all administrative powers,” says Amarinder Singh, explaining how his idea of governance is to give maximum power to the administration. 

“We need to draw a clear line between sangat darshan as a forum to reach out to people and as a tool for governance. While any outreach programme that helps us connect with the people at the grassroots is laudable, governance, I think, is best left to those entrusted with the task. If you start using sangat darshans to distribute development funds, and that too selectively as was done by former CM Badal, then the entire purpose of such platforms is defeated,” says Amarinder.

In Punjab, Badal’s sangat darshan programmes, though popular, came in for a lot of criticism from political strategists, economists, and his political opponents. Badal was not perturbed. These programmes continued from 1997- 2002, and again from 2007-2016. Even when out of power, Badals' public outreach is through public darshans -- he holds court in Chandigarh for party workers, and in Lambi for his constituents.

A senior bureaucrat in Punjab, who worked in the CMO during Badal's tenure, said over the years the sangat darshan had been redesigned and involved cooperation of many departments. “No personal or political issues were taken up. Only development issues were brought to the CM’s attention. Even before these were brought to him, the deputy commissioner met the departments concerned. The CM acted as the bridge between the government and those it governed,” he said, while requesting anonymity.

Many in the administration as well as political analysts, however, feel that Capt Amarinder Singh's approach is better. “Holding darbars and using the state's limited resources for giving away grants in did hardly good for the state,” says a retired officer. 

Harcharan Bains, advisor to Badal on national affairs, brushes aside the criticism of sangat darshan. “Isn't it better for the people to know that they can directly approach the CM, and ensure that their grievance is redressed? Since the follow-up of these programmes was strong, it ensured that issues taken up met their logical conclusion in a time-bound manner. In the Congress, no one wants to spend that much time or energy,” he said.

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