“He is strapping, suave and sophisticated. Coming from one of the most illustrious Sikh families, he is an alumnus of The Lawrence School, Sanawar, and St Stephen’s College, Delhi. He was handling the corporate side of his family-owned Saraya Group of industries and had a passion for flying, car rallying and basketball. That was before he plunged into Punjab politics.”
Much has changed in the man whose introduction was thus scripted by Punjab’s deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on his website when his brother-in-law, Bikram Singh Majithia, became a first-time legislator in 2007. He had then hogged the limelight as the youngest minister (31) in the first tenure (2007-12) of the Parkash Singh Badal government. He continues to do that – but as one in the eye of recurring political storms.
Truth be told, Majithia has become a lightning rod for controversies and criticism, much to the discomfiture of his own party.
Meteoric political rise
Majithia evokes extreme reactions in Punjab, either loved or loathed. But he definitely can’t be ignored. Those who know this scion of the prominent Majithia clan since his younger days, say he was flamboyant and seen in Chandigarh driving an imported two-seater car, participating in motorsport rallies. It was after 2002 that the younger brother of union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal acquired much of the aggression that he is notorious for today.
After becoming CM, Captain Amarinder Singh went after the Badals, ordering the search of the residence of Harsimrat in Delhi. Majithia then became Sukhbir’s troubleshooter and right-hand man. When the Badals came to power in 2007, Majithia’s political rise was almost meteoric.
Known to be loyal to a fault, he sacrificed his cabinet berth to make way for Sukhbir’s foraying into state politics, which was aimed at scuttling the growing popularity of the CM’s nephew, Manpreet Singh Badal.
In 2009, Majithia was married into the family of Charan Singh, former head of the Beas-based Radhasoami sect, an alliance that further bolstered his profile.
Hubris leads to political nemesis
A year before the state elections, Majithia was made president of the Youth Akali Dal in December 2010. His unbound ambition on political upward mobility proved to be his undoing, as he stuffed its cadres recklessly with shady elements, giving them a virtual licence to “loot and kill”; all this to establish his leadership and create a virtual fifth column in Punjab politics.
It goes to his credit that he was a key strategist in Sukhbir’s deft poll management when the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP rewrote Punjab’s political history by retaining power in 2012. That was also a turning point for Majithia who emerged as the most influential minister, drawing his power as much from his blood relations to the Badal family as from the key ministries – revenue and public relations – that he lords over.
Soon enough, his hubris laid the ground for his political nemesis. He was increasingly seen in public perception as “a power drunk minister” who cavalierly patronised the wayward youth Akali brigade that went about unleashing a reign of terror and allegedly had its fingers in the till of real estate, sand and liquor businesses.
More than anything else, it was the high-handedness of lout youth Akalis that severely dented his image. Not surprisingly, every allegation, be it of patronising liquor, land or sand mafia, came to stick on Majithia’s suave persona. He was far from his genial self when he hurled expletives at a Congress legislator in the assembly.
PR minister becomes govt’s PR nightmare
Later, to prove that no one can survive on his turf, Majha, without his pleasure, he ensured that cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu did not get the BJP ticket to re-contest from Amritsar in the Lok Sabha polls. The “masterstroke” of making BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley contest from Amritsar proved to be a blunder, even as Majithia kicked up a controversy by distorting the Gurbani, which Amarinder as candidate used to the hilt to win.
But Majithia’s image hit a new low when arrested drug lord Jagdish Bhola named him as the “kingpin” of the racket — an allegation that is yet to be proved. Both the Shiromani Akali Dal and its ally, the BJP, paid the price in the Lok Sabha elections, which has forced him to lie low since.
Still the chickens have come home to roost. The Enforcement Directorate (ED), which falls under the Union finance ministry of Jaitley, now has summoned him for questioning in the money laundering case of the multi-layered, multi-crore drug trafficking racket. He will have much to explain when he appears before the ED on December 26.
A devout Sikh, Majithia claims he is more sinned against than sinning but a few on the street will believe the protestations of a man who faces his worst credibility crisis and who is seen as a symbol of all that’s wrong with the government and the SAD.
It’s a pity that controversies have come to overshadow his ground-breaking initiatives on solar energy and revenue reforms. Ironically for the Badal government, its high-profile public relations minister has come to be seen as its PR nightmare.