BJP leaders, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu and his wife, chief parliamentary secretary (CPS) Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu, never miss any opportunity to hit out at Badals and the Shiromani Akali Dal. Whenever BJP state president Kamal Sharma is asked about the Sidhu couple’s statements, he prefers to stay mum. After the CPS recently targeted chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, Sharma, who was in Amritsar to attend a cultural function, was asked about the party’s position, but he ducked as usual. Then, a reporter asked him to respond as he was the state unit chief of the party, but the BJP preferred silence once again. “Thanks for telling me that I am the party president,” he said before walking off.
Extracting pound of flesh
Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa wants to extract his pound of flesh in the event of a change of guard in the state. His brother Fateh Jang Bajwa and other confidants have been selling the idea of a compromise formula being worked out by the party high command with arch rival, former Punjab CM and deputy leader of party in Lok Sabha, Captain Amarinder Singh, saying each would get their due as both are “tallest” leaders of Congress in Punjab. But Amarinder is not willing to buy peace, at least not on Bajwa’s terms of being a second in command. So, Bajwa has been blowing hot after blowing cold and is preparing for a parallel show of strength through rallies. But he is yet to announce where and when as both will depend on who is willing to support the beleaguered state chief in organising rallies and getting the crowds too.
Blessing in disguise
The Gurdaspur terror attack proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Punjab government which was facing a piquant situation in trying to tackle Punjab hardliners over the Surat Singh Khalsa issue. The possibility of terrorism raising its ugly head in the state suddenly looked real even though there was no connection of the attack with Khalistani terrorists. The whole week following the attack the hardliners went quiet over Khalsa, and so did the demand for release of Sikh prisoners from jails.
No Europe for SAD
The visits of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders to Europe for the party’s public relations campaign on the lines of their recent visits to the US and Canada have been postponed. Senior Akali leaders Parminder Singh Dhindsa and Balwant Singh Ramoowalia were scheduled to leave for the UK, France and Germany in the first week of August, but they were told to cancel their trips. While Ramoowalia said the cancellation of his tour was a fallout of the Dinanagar terror attack, there are rumours that the decision was taken due to the protests the SAD delegations faced in the US and Canada.
Aiming for AIIMS
The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are going all out, especially on social media, in their bid to push for an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Jammu. Their media cells, which created their own WhatsApp groups of journalists, have identical display pictures: “We want AIIMS back in Jammu.” The two parties, especially the BJP, do not have much presence in Kashmir where the Centre has already announced AIIMS. While the Congress had ruled the state, either alone or in coalition, in the past primarily because of its hold in Jammu, the BJP is also currently in power, thanks to 25 seats there. Assuming a political windfall in case the prestigious institute is sanctioned for Jammu, the two parties have left no stone unturned in their bid to emerge as champion of the cause.
Enjoying all attention
Haryana health minister Anil Vij’s snooping charge against his own party’s government created quite a buzz on social media. Queries on micro-blogging site Twitter dogged him even when he had gone to Mussoorie – a hill station in Uttarakhand – on a short trip last week. As soon as he tweeted his photo, saying he was in Mussoorie, several queries (mostly in Hindi) were posted on the spying episode, asking “any info about that spy” and “you have gone there alone or spies are still behind you’’. Another message was: “You have gone to Mussoorie after creating a sensation here.” But the minister does not mind all the attention. He seems to enjoy it.
Food for thought
It’s not often that one finds civil servants and politicians loosening their purse strings. So when Haryana director, development and panchayats, Chandrashekhar, offered to pay for his food at a day-long meeting of departmental officers at Morni on Friday, many present in the meeting were amused. The officer, who was accompanied by his family and had a night halt at Morni, actually paid for his and family’s food. While many would question the rationale behind paying for food at an official meeting, the fact is that junior officials, particularly in the districts, often resort to unscrupulous practices to arrange free lunches for senior officers and politicians. Late chief minister Bansi Lal was probably one of the few politicians who would pay for his food and stay whenever he put up at a government rest house.
An office order placed on the notice board on all the floors at the Haryana new secretariat, Sector 17, Chandigarh, has been a matter of much speculation in bureaucratic circles for the past few days. It reads: “It has come to the notice of the authorities that specific female cleaning staff is being called for the cleaning services in office/rooms by specific officers/officials. This exercise is against the decorum of government offices. Needless to say, in light of the 1997 Supreme Court judgment in case of Vishakha and others vs state of Rajasthan and the promulgation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, such practices by officers are not desirable and very unwise. Accordingly, it is directed that henceforth no officer/official will call any female cleaning staff to their office/room directly. If cleaning services are required, the cleaning incharge of the said floor may be called who shall ensure the room/space is cleaned in his presence…(sic).”
For good health
Himachal health minister Kaul Singh Thakur, who hogged the headlines due to CD saga, recently underwent a bypass surgery at a private hospital in Chandigarh. As the minister is expected to return to the state capital on August 4, his supporters, who had been maintaining a low profile ever since the controversial CD was leaked, have organised a bhandara (community kitchen) at the Sankat Mochan temple and ‘Mahamritunjaya Yagna’ for his well-being. Himachal Congress secretary Inder Singh Thakur has already distributed more than 500 invites. The minister had obliquely blamed chief minister Virbhadra Singh for the leak. Now it remains to be seen whether Kaul Singh Thakur uses this opportunity to show his might or target the CM.
Himachal irrigation and public health minister Vidya Stokes (87) has been known for her plain speaking. But age seems to be taking its toll on the leader who is the eldest member of the state assembly. These days, her speeches are often marred by a slip of tongue or her tendency to forget details. In Nagrota Bagwan area of Kangra to participate in the birthday bash of transport minister GS Bali recently, the party leaders were left red-faced when Stokes disparaged her own party. “Congress stands nowhere in front of the BJP,” she declared. Bali and other leaders present on the dais did not know how to respond.
Himachal Vidhan Sabha speaker BBL Butail is dejected by the way his presence at the birthday bash of transport minister GS Bali was reported in the media. His presence at the mega affair led to speculations about renewed activities of the group opposed to chief minister Virbhadra Singh. The very next day, Butail issued a clarification that he had no ill will towards the chief minister and was in Nagrota Bagwan to attend a social function. Urging the media not to sensationalise, he said nobody would attend such programmes if the media projected them in a negative way.
The bickering between rival groups led by former chief ministers Shanta Kumar and Prem Kumar Dhumal in Himachal unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has escalated after the former’s “heads-hang-in-shame” letter to party’s national president Amit Shah. The Dhumal camp hit back with his close confidante, former irrigation and public health minister Ravinder Singh Ravi, publicly lashing out at Shanta Kumar, blaming him for the party’s poll debacle in the state. However, his outburst did not go down well with BJP state unit chief and Una legislator Satpal Singh Satti. He has not only issued a gag order, but also warned the party leaders of stern action. “No one is above the party,” he declared.
Moving towards saffron party?
Himachal Lokhit Party chief Maheshwar Singh, who is also the Kullu MLA, made a secret trip to Kangra MP Shanta Kumar’s constituency and home in New Delhi. Singh, who quit the BJP before the assembly elections to float his own party, also met veteran leader LK Advani and Union urban development minister Venkaiah Naidu. The HLP leader’s meeting with Shanta Kumar, who has been critical of the present set-up in the party, coincided with the visit of former BJP legislator Khushi Ram Balnatah. The ex-MLA was among the founder members of HLP and deserted the saffron party ahead of the 2014 parliamentary polls to return to its fold. The meetings have left everyone wondering whether Singh is looking to rejoin the BJP, but no one seems sure.
Food and transport minister GS Bali, who has been in the thick of controversies over purchase of school uniform and recruitment of conductors in recent months, appears relaxed these days. “I always make news for raising one issue or the other in the cabinet meetings. Now I have left all tension behind and am enjoying life,” he told reporters the other day. Before the cabinet meeting recently, the minister wrote to chief minister Virbhadra Singh that he would be able to attend the meeting only till 4pm. To Bali’s delight, the meeting chaired by the CM finished a few minutes before 4 pm.
Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer Rajesh Sharma, who headed the passport office in Shimla, is in a dilemma these days. He has completed his deputation, but is not being relieved by the ministry of external affairs for his new assignment in the state. The state government has already issued the order for his posting as managing director of Himachal Pradesh Skill Development Corporation. While he continues to attend the passport office in the absence of his relieving order, Sharma has assumed the charge of his new assignment also. The officer has also asked his staff to consult him before buying a new official vehicle for him.
(Contributed by Aseem Bassi, Sukhdeep Kaur, Chitleen Sethi, Prabhjit Singh, Tarun Upadhyay, Rajesh Moudgil, Hitender Rao, Gaurav Bisht and Naresh K Thakur)