By Simranjot Singh:
We all know of India’s glorious past of being a prosperous source of exports for the rest of the world. Explorers set out from all possible corners to lay their hands on the legendary riches of this nation. We also know of the story of the undoing of this reputation. But before the deed was done completely and irrevocably, a town in Punjab flourished, more so under the patronage of the British rule. Malout, a city that falls under the Mukhsar district of Punjab was of commercial and strategic importance. The city gets its name from the base established by the British to trade in glucose (called ‘Mal’). It is one of the most prominent towns in the ‘cotton belt’ of India, where the production is one of the highest per unit. It received an impetus from the railway line and water facilities provided to it between the 1900’s and the 1920’s. Its strategic importance to India also became more obvious due the military activities during the Emergency as the town lies 45Km away from the Pakistan border.
But this is not what I want to say about Malout today. Not far from this town, the son of a simple farmer’s family entered politics in 1947, the year that India acquired independence from the British. 10 years on, Prakash Singh Badal was elected as the youngest Chief Minister of the state of Punjab. In January 2012, Shiromani Akali Dal amassed votes in the state elections and Badal became the CM of the state for a record fifth time. His election comes at the fag end of his 65 year political career. Looking back on his tenure as Chief Minister; highlighted by scandals regarding his net worth, his involvement in the Dharam Yudh Morcha days of Punjab, civil liberties agitation, etc., it is a wonder to see the amount of public support garnered for him despite his legal imperfections. It is this vote politics that ensured his re election time and again, now making him the oldest Chief Minister of the state. But is this support simply due to his humble beginnings in Mukhsar? Are the people seeing their own aspirations reflected in this story of a small village boy making it big? Are they not able to see that the conditions of the state, and his own hometown, in terms of human development have not changed? Health services are scarce, education has not been taken up as an issue by the government; an issue reflected by the lack of government institutions of higher education in the region of Malout and other cities of Mukhsar. How irrational is the vote bank to continuously place on a position of power someone who is not bringing about relevant and significant improvement in their social conditions?