During a recent tour of Dhuri to thank the people for electing Gobind Singh Longowal of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) as legislator in the byelection, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal lent a sympathetic ear to the media, too. During an interaction on the last day of his trip, a journalist requested the CM: “Badal Saab, please think about us also. Give us plots at concessional rates from some quota.” Badal replied that it was not possible right now. “I cannot even give you exemption from paying fee at toll plazas,” he said. But the scribe did not give up, asking: “Fer tussi saade layi ki karoge? (Then what else will you do for us?)” Badal, famous for his subtle wit, responded: “Main tuhada satkar karoonga. Kehnde ho teh hath ban ke khad ke kar dinda haan (I’ll respect you. If you say, I can stand up to do it with folded hands).” There were giggles all around and even some red faces.
Leader in absentia
Capt Amarinder Singh, deputy leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, has never camouflaged his preference for state politics. The former Punjab chief minister, who represents Amritsar in the Lower House, shows it at every available opportunity. While Amarinder has not let go of any chance to tear into the Badal duo, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy CM son, Sukhbir Singh Badal, in Punjab, his irregular appearance in the Lok Sabha has been a matter of concern for the party’s central leadership. His attendance in the House was merely 10%, lowest among MPs from the north region, against the national average of 85% and the state average of 78% in the past one year, according to data available on www.prsindia.org. Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party MP Muzaffar Hussain Baig matched him with 10% attendance. In the recent Budget session, the former CM’s attendance was just 6%. If the Congress, with the lowest-ever tally of 44 MPs, was counting on him to lead the charge in the Lok Sabha, Amarinder was not there on most days.
Question of luck
Luck does not seem to be favouring Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MP from Khadoor Sahib, in the Lok Sabha. The MP has been trying to put questions in the House, but not been successful in the draw of lots. “I applied on several occasions, but my question was never selected,” he said, on being asked why he did not have even a single question listed against his name. “Meri lottery nahin nikli,” is his stock reply. Not surprising, therefore, that the SAD veteran leader, who was a cabinet minister in Punjab earlier, prefers the assembly to the Lower House.
In Akali politics, honorifics have become a practice. ‘Bhai’ and ‘jathedar’ are preferred by Taksali (old timers) Akalis. The newer lot likes the prefix ‘professor’ to project the image of educated leaders. The latest Akali to join the club is Virsa Singh Valtoha, whose press note referred to him as “Professor Virsa Singh Valtoha” the other day. Valtoha, says one of his close aides, holds a master’s degree in Punjabi from Guru Nanak Dev University and had also taught at Khalsa College for two years. The other Akali “professors” include former Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president professor Kirpal Singh Badungar and Anandpur Sahib MP professor Prem Singh Chandumajra. Valtoha wanted teaching as his full-time profession and had even cleared the UGC (University Grants Commission) test to become a lecturer. “Luck had something else in store for me. I came into politics,” he said.
Jumping the gun
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in Haryana appeared overexcited about the commission of inquiry (CoI) constituted by their government last week to probe the Vadra-DLF and some other land deals in Gurgaon. Though the government had gone slow on the inquiry panel after the CM’s tweet more than four months ago, ministers Ram Bilas Sharma and Anil Vij, and the secretary in charge of the party affairs in Haryana, Anil Jain, seemed be competing with each other to share the details a day before the panel was set up. While Sharma declared on May 13 (Wednesday) that the government would appoint a retired judge of the Supreme Court to probe the matter before the party’s meeting on Friday, Vij posted a craftily-worded tweet, saying action was imminent. The BJP secretary then tweeted that the process for setting up the commission was complete. As impression got created that the party was steering the state government, there was some disquiet. Within hours, Jain deleted his two tweets on the subject, maintaining that the posts were made inadvertently. The government announced the one-man CoI headed by a retired judge of the high court formally through an official release the next day.
Cool as a cucumber
The growing vehicular population, coupled with dysfunctional traffic lights, has added to the woes of the traffic wing of Punjab Police. While young cops can be seen sweating out in extreme temperatures to monitor traffic in Ludhiana, there is another set unable to handle its extra pounds. They keep looking for convenient seats to relax. The “heavyweights” find space anywhere, from tea-stall benches to chairs at juice corners. But it was interesting to see a middle-aged traffic cop sitting on the stool of a cucumber vendor on roadside, not bothered about glances or comments of the passers-by. Perhaps this is what we call “cool as a cucumber”.
Who needs a memento?
Congress leader and former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who displayed his sense of humour at the meet-the-press programme of the Chandigarh Press Club, did not spare its office-bearers either. Not only did he tell journalists jokes in his reply to their questions, but also he would search for the reporters concerned. “Kaun hai bhai, kahan hai, kahan se pooch raha hai?’’ he would ask. During the introductory speeches, too, he made everyone smile when one of the office-bearers reminded another to present the club memento to Hooda. At this, the former CM said it was not an issue, since after being in politics for several years and visiting the club many times during, he had collected many of those mementos. “Kayee ikatthe ho rahe hain mere paas,” he said.
Passing the baton?
Himachal Pradesh CM Virbhadra Singh is the longest serving chief minister after Pawan Chamling of Sikkim and late Jyoti Basu of West Bengal. He surprised everyone at a public meeting in Mandi the other day, saying that he could become CM even for the seventh time, but was in favour of giving a chance to someone from the younger generation. His remark set the political circles abuzz whether Virbhadra, scion of the erstwhile Bushahar princely state, was trying to project his son, Vikramaditya Singh, as his heir in state politics, too. Vikramaditya, president of the Himachal Pradesh Youth Congress, had accompanied his father on the tour of Mandi parliamentary constituency, where his mother, Pratibha Singh, had lost to BJP first-timer Ramswaroop Sharma last year.
Credit war in HP
The Himachal Pradesh politicians are competing for credit these days. Since now there are more flights to the state, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has decided to expand the state’s largest airport, at Gaggal near Kangra. The Congress, which is in power in the state; and the BJP, which rules the Centre, are both trying to take credit for the project. Recently, private airline SpiceJet invited BJP MP Anurag Thakur to flag off its additional flight between Delhi and Dharamsala, calling state’s urban development minister Sudhir Sharma and transport minister GS Bali also as guests of honour. However, the two state ministers skipped the event. While Anurag, who attended the ceremony, gave the credit of civil aviation’s growth in the state to himself, Sudhir Sharma held a simultaneous meeting with the AAI team on the airport expansion project.
A little too bold
If being in casual clothes and sunglasses while receiving the Prime Minister got an IAS officer notice from the Chhattisgarh government, another young IAS officer raised the hackles of chief minister Virbhadra Singh in Himachal Pradesh for his “bold comments” on an official file, where he was required to order an FIR (first-information report) in a case related to free uniform for children in the state-run schools. In his noting, food and civil supplies managing director Pritayu Mandal referred to the CM’s telephonic instruction to the department to register an FIR, but wrote that he favoured going for legal opinion instead. As a consequence, Mandal, considered close to food and civil supplies minister GS Bali, was shunted out quickly.
Chief minister Virbhadra Singh took potshots at his detractor, Himachal Pradesh health minister Kaul Singh Thakur, at a public meeting in the latter’s assembly segment, Darang. Kaul Singh, who had lost the race for the CM’s office just before the assembly elections when Virbhadra asked the public why it was not setting Kaul Singh free to campaign in other constituencies, remains confined to his assembly segment these days.
What went wrong?
Chief minister Virbhadra Singh’s change of heart at the last minute left IPS officer and Himachal Pradesh inspector general of police (headquarters) SZH Zaidi embarrassed. The government first posted Zaidi as managing director, food and supplies, but rescinded the order within 15 minutes, even as the IPS officer was being congratulated by his colleagues. The government’s somersaulting has left Zaidi wondering what went wrong. Perhaps his friendship with transport, food and supplies minister GS Bali came in the way of his posting.
CONTRIBUTED BY GAGANDEEP SINGH GILL, NAVNEET SHARMA, GURPREET SINGH NIBBER, ANSHU SETH, RAJESH MOUDGIL, GAURAV BISHT AND NARESH K THAKUR