'Vilified for Not Displaying Fiscal Recklessness': Punjab Ex-Minister Quits Congress, Joins BJP

Manpreet Badal had joined Congress seven years ago, ahead of the 2017 Punjab assembly polls. He is closely related to the Badals of the Shiromani Akali Dal.

Jalandhar: Senior Congress leader and former Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal on Wednesday, January 18, quit the party and joined Bharatiya Janata Party in the presence Union minister Piyush Goyal at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi. He has written a letter blaming internal fights and his vilification in the Congress as reasons for his move.

Manpreet Badal had joined Congress seven years ago, ahead of the 2017 Punjab assembly polls.

Manpreet said ‘internal disagreements’ in an already divided house, ‘disillusionment’, ‘factionalism’ and the fact that the party had indulged in ‘strengthening the very worst elements’ were some of the reasons why he left. He also said that the manner in which the Congress party has conducted its affairs and taken decisions, specifically with regards to Punjab, has been disheartening.

Manpreet’s father Gurdas Badal was the brother of former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal, the son of Parkash Singh Badal, is Manpreet’s cousin.

In his letter addressed to party leader Rahul Gandhi, just as he reached Himachal Pradesh as part of Bharat Jodo Yatra, Manpreet Badal delivered searing criticism of Congress’s leadership.

“The coterie of men entrusted with the authority to dictate Delhi’s writ to the Punjab unit of Congress are far from sound. Instead of striving to reduce ‘internal disagreement’ in an already divided house, these men acted to further increase factionalism, and almost as a matter of policy strengthened the very worst elements within the party.

“Regretfully, given the prevalent culture within the party and the defiant desire to persist in the present course. I no longer wish to be a part of Indian National Congress.”

He also wrote in the letter that his task as finance minister was never easy and that he was vilified in the Punjab Congress in spite of his efforts.

“I inherited an exchequer in shambles, it was truly on the brink of collapse. I essentially had two options. I could either choose to continue to ignore numerical realities and pursue populist policies- that would unequivocally exacerbate Punjab’s problems to the point where a financial emergency would be imminent- or I could accept the fact that difficult decisions were desperately needed, and assiduously adhere to fiscal discipline. I chose the latter.”

“In doing so, I convincingly pleaded Punjab’s case to the 15th Finance Commission and the GST Council and prevailed upon them to treat the state favourably. I do not believe I am exaggerating in saying that I almost single-handedly succeeded in garnering an additional [Rs] 50,000 crores for the state exchequer, which would not ordinarily have been acquired. However far from being acknowledged or appreciated for my efforts, I was vilified in Punjab Congress for failing to display what can only be described as fiscal recklessness.”

He further stated in the letter that he did not see the point in elaborating extensively on all of what led to his “ultimate and irrevocable disaffection.”

In the recently concluded Punjab leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Manpreet Badal was notably missing from the scene.

On Monday, during a press conference at Mukerian sub division in Hoshiarpur district, when Rahul Gandhi was asked a question on the many Congress leaders who have gone to the BJP and whether this had led to a leadership crisis in the party, he had said that those who had jumped ship were under some kind of pressure.

“My experience is pretty much that anybody who goes to the BJP goes there because of a particular type of pressure. It’s a hidden pressure and generally a result of pressure from CBI or ED cases and corruption. So, we are quite happy that these types of people are not in the party anymore. Congress party has extremely capable leadership all the way from top to the grassroots level. So, I am not worried,” he said.

Also read: A Change of Guard Is Not Enough to Solve Punjab Congress’s Problems

Since joining BJP, Manpreet has lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said, “Under PM Modi, India has made its presence felt globally through our diplomacy. We have Russia and the US with us. India has the guts to fight China. The future belongs to India, under PM Modi’s leadership.”

Manpreet also said that a few days ago, he met a ‘tiger’ – referring to Union home minister Amit Shah. “The Union home minister shared that Punjab has been attacked 400 times. He said that we will do anything to save Punjab. This statement touched me and as I am always concerned about Punjab.”

He also claimed that Punjab was slipping and only BJP could save it. Manpreet said that Congress was a party at war with itself, “so how can one operate there?”

Many Congress insiders believe that Manpreet’s differences with Punjab Congress chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring is one of the major reasons behind his move.

During the 2022 assembly polls, Warring had appeared on a Facebook Live broadcast and called for the defeat of ‘Bathinde-wala Badal (the Badal from Bathinda)’, which was an apparent reference to Manpreet, as he was contesting from the Bathinda Urban seat. Warrign had also asked voters to “defeat all Badals, wherever they were contesting in Punjab.”

Known for his love for Urdu and literature, Manpreet was expelled from SAD following differences over the debt waiver offer from the United Progressive Alliance II government in 2010.

He served as the Punjab finance minister in SAD from 2007 to 2010. After quitting SAD, he launched his own party, People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) and contested the 2012 Punjab assembly polls.

However, before the 2017 Punjab assembly elections, Manpreet joined Congress and served as finance minister once again. Manpreet lost the 2022 Punjab assembly polls from Bathinda Urban seat. He has been MLA five times after winning assembly polls in 1995, 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2017.