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Badals' adviser industry booms

It is Punjab's booming industry, courtesy the government's own enterprise. And it comes with pay and perks, not to forget the status of a cabinet minister, minister of state or a chief parliamentary secretary. Sukhdeep Kaur reports

chandigarh Updated: Oct 13, 2013 11:18 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur

It is Punjab's booming industry, courtesy the government's own enterprise. And it comes with pay and perks, not to forget the status of a cabinet minister, minister of state or a chief parliamentary secretary. After adjusting many a loyalist (read defeated Akali and BJP MLAs) as chairmen of its in-the-red boards and corporations, the Badals are now hiring advisers for every move they make.

In his previous tenure, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal had seven advisers. Badal Senior had four advisers for sounding him of on media, political, technical and industrial matters, while his deputy appointed advisers in the run-up to the 2012 assembly elections purely for political considerations. Former DGP PS Gill was appointed adviser (home) soon after he retired on September 30, 2011. He was later allotted the SAD ticket to contest from Moga, which he lost.

His poll-worthiness tried and tested, Gill was later sidelined. Sukhbir wooed Congress MLA Joginderpal Jain, who had trumped Gill in the elections. Jain was brought to the Akali fold after he resigned from the Congress. He went on to win the Moga byelection. Despite criminal cases against him, Jain was rewarded with chairmanship of the Punjab Warehousing Corporation, one of the state's five procurement agencies that deals with crores of rupees during procurement of wheat and paddy.

Sukhbir had earlier used the adviser bait to lure an aide of his cousin and former finance minister Manpreet Badal. Manpreet's officer on special duty (OSD) Charanjit Singh Brar switched loyalty from the People's Party of Punjab to the Shiromani Akali Dal as Sukhbir's media adviser. After the 2012 verdict sealed Manpreet's poll fortunes, Brar's fortunes also nosedived. Little is heard about Prem Mittal too, who was appointed political adviser to Sukhbir during his previous stint.

In the run-up to the parliamentary polls, Sukhbir, who believes the media can be managed, recently appointed a media adviser and an assistant media adviser from two English dailies for ensuring good press, using the services of his brother-in-law Bikram Majithia, who heads the public relations department. But grant of minister of state status to them along with pay and perks raised the hackles of Sukhbir's other brother-in-law Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, who questioned the move of bestowing largesse of elected representatives on non-elected advisers, during the recent cabinet meeting. Kairon was supported by other Akali and BJP ministers who feared the sanctity and clout of their rank was being diluted by the onslaught of advisers.

CM's advisers with cabinet rank

Kamal Oswal (industrial matters)

Oswal heads the R 3,500 crore Ludhiana-based textile major as managing director of Nahar Industrial Enterprises and Cotton County Retail Limited. He advises the chief minister on policy decisions related to industry and accompanies him in trade and industry related delegations.

Tikshan Sud (political matters)

Sud replaced Kamal Sharma after the latter was elevated to the post of Punjab BJP president. The clout of Sud, a minister in the previous tenure of the government, grew after the BJP dropped Manoranjan Kalia from the cabinet. The former MLA has been rehabilitated but so far his is an honorary post. He has just the cabinet rank, minus the pay and perks.

Mahesh Inder Grewal (political adviser)
Grewal is adviser to the chief minister and works as a bridge between the CMO and the public. In the past few months, he has been more active as a spokesman of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal.

Rajinder Bhandari: Deputy chairman of the Punjab Planning Board

The former BJP state president has been rehabilitated as the deputy chairman of the Punjab Planning Board. The chief minister is the chairman. Bhandari, who enjoys a cabinet rank, oversees the distribution of development grants among various departments.

Lt Gen (retd) BS Dhaliwal (technical matters)
Dhaliwal is the chief minister's Man Friday for all things technical. He carries out specific tasks assigned by the CM such as preparing a report on waterlogged Malwa, heading fact-finding panels on mishaps such as the collapse of a factory to offering technical inputs on infrastructure projects.

Others who enjoy cabinet status include Punjab advocate general Ashok Aggarwal and Punjab Mandi Board chairman Ajmer Singh Lakhowal besides chairmen of advisory boards.

Advisers with minister of state rank:

Harcharan Bains (adviser on national affairs and media)

Bains, a trusted aide of chief minister Badal, was the only media adviser in the Akali-BJP government before he was sidelined in the tug-of-war between the CMO and the department of public relations headed by Bikram Singh Majithia, the all-powerful brother-in-law of the deputy CM. His alienation by the deputy CMO was complete after Sukhbir appointed his own media adviser and assistant media adviser recently. But as adviser to the CM on media and national affairs, Bains still articulates important press statements from the CMO and accompanies the CM during his official visits to New Delhi.

Jangveer Singh (media adviser to the deputy CM)

A correspondent from an English daily, Jangveer as Sukhbir's media adviser has been given the rank of minister of state as Bains. The deputy CM now wants a mediaperson to give him insight on handling media relations. He also now takes a call on whom to provide access to Sukhbir and when.

Others with minister of state status are four vice-chairmen of industry and traders boards.

Advisers with CPS rank

Vineet Joshi (assistant media adviser to government)

Joshi is a recent entry to the adviser list, mainly to keep ally BJP in good humour. As press in-charge of the saffron party, his dealings with media got Joshi the job but only as assistant media adviser. A sulking Joshi refused to take charge for weeks after his appointment till the party assured him independent working. His job profile remains the same: handling the BJP's media relations.

Harjinder Sidhu (assistant media adviser to the deputy CM)

A correspondent of an English daily in politically important Bathinda, Harjinder is the most recent entry in the list of advisers. He has been roped in to handle media relations in the turf of Badal bahu Harsimrat Badal in the run up to the parliamentary elections.

Pay and perks
Cabinet rank:
R 30,000 monthly salary, official accommodation, vehicle, unlimited fuel for official car, office staff, personal staff and telephones. The staff includes a stenographer, private secretary and peon.

Minister of state:
R 30,000 monthly salary, official accommodation and camp office, official car, executive class air and train journey and phones. The staff includes a personal assistant, a driver and a peon.

Chief parliamentary secretary
R 20,000 monthly salary, government accommodation or a rented house of up to R 50,000, official car and phones. Staff includes senior-scale stenographer, a clerk and a peon.