Chandigarh, Oct 10 (IANS): At a time when Punjab is at the political crossroads over the issue of allowing international supermarket chains in multi-brand retail, Congress leader Amarinder Singh has accused Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal of "putting politics before Punjab" and said the state "will pay the price for Badal's indecision".
The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, which runs an alliance government in Punjab with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has opposed allowing foreign investment in the state's retail business.
"Parkash Singh Badal is only playing politics. He knows it (foreign investment) is good for Punjab. His own mandi board chairman has spoken out in favour," Amarinder Singh, the former chief minister, told IANS in an interview here.
"This is entirely due to political compulsions and his closeness to the BJP. This has been his stand ever since aunha nu naal rakhna hai (we need to keep them (BJP) with us). Initially when they were fighting (elections), they were always losing. They only started forming the government (in Punjab) when the BJP came in," Amarinder said while drawing out Badal's compulsions to oppose the move to opening up retail to what is called foreign direct investment (FDI).
The contradictions within the ruling Akali Dal have seen a flip-flop by its top leadership. Akali Dal president and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had in December last year written to Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma lauding the move and complimenting the central government.
Sukhbir wrote: "We strongly believe that FDI in multi-brand retail will bring in the expertise, experience and resources of foreign retailers. A major beneficiary of back-end investments would be farmers, who will gain substantially through agricultural best-practices of international retail companies, thus improving the quality and quantity of their yield, and will also get better remuneration."
Amarinder said that people who have talked to Sukhbir say he admits that FDI is the only solution for Punjab. But Sukhbir's father, Parkash Singh Badal, is opposing FDI.
"Not only him, a lot of his Akali Dal leaders say they don't know what has happened to Parkash Singh Badal. Even officers have tried to convince him, but he is just not ready to listen," Amarinder disclosed.
Punjab was the first state to see FDI investment in the wholesale sector when Bharti-Walmart set up its first wholesale store as a joint venture in Amritsar in 2009, when too the Akali Dal-BJP was ruling.
"Sukhbir's attitude is right but he is unfortunately pressurised by his father. Otherwise how can you have a letter pointing to the left and suddenly you totally reverse it to the right? There is no logic. I think he didn't think about it then or he has not thought about it now. He had earlier said that it would be a great thing for Punjab's farmers," Amarinder said.
The Congress leader said that the stand taken by the Akalis would harm Punjab in the long run.
"FDI companies will invest a minimum of Rs.100 crore (Rs 1 billion). Punjab will pay the price for Badal's indecision. He is putting politics before Punjab," Amarinder said.
In 2003-04, the Congress government led by Amarinder initiated a 'field-to-fork' project with Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Group to sell cash crops grown by Punjab farmers.
"We brought the field-to-fork programme with Reliance. In four years, we would have covered the whole state. The Akalis agitated against it and killed it. Reliance was going to do it in a big way in Punjab," Amarinder said.
"Our paddy-wheat cycle is killing the state. Ever since the Green Revolution in 1967, there has been no rotation in the crops. It's always been grain after grain after grain. It has completely ruined the soil. Micro-nutrients levels are nil. You cannot tell the farmer to get out of it unless there is some market available. If I am going to tell them to grow potatoes, tomatoes, tindas, baingan and gobi, who is going to buy them?" Amarinder asked, justifying the field-to-fork project.
Amarinder pointed out that Punjab's agriculture growth, at one percent, was below the national growth. The state is known as the foodgrain bowl of India, contributing nearly 70 percent foodgrain to the national kitty.