‘Delhi-based’ deputy CM
Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal likes to spend his weekends in the national capital. Almost every Friday evening, like a “sarkari babu” living away from his family, Sukhbir hurries to Delhi in the state government’s helicopter. His wife — Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal and children live in the national capital. Even if there is a holiday during the week, the junior Badal, whose official bungalow is adjoining to the sprawling residence where his father, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, lives alone, prefers Delhi to Punjab. What’s more, there are occasions when he summons bureaucrats to his Delhi residence for even mundane meetings. While Sukhbir and his family are currently holidaying in the “salubrious environs” of Europe, the question being asked in the corridors of power in Chandigarh is: “Where is our Delhi-based deputy CM?”
The tweet war
Indian Youth Congress (IYC) president Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, who is also Gidderbaha legislator, recently kicked up a storm on microblogging website Twitter. The IYC chief posted a tweet @RajaBrar_INC (Twitter handle) to mock union human resource development minister Smriti Irani, questioning her rapid rise in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The nasty undertone of his tweet against the human resource development (HRD) minister, who is locked in a verbal duel with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, created a hullabaloo, triggering an abusive tweet war between the Congress supporters and followers of the saffron party. Both sides heaped scorns on each other, dragging the names of top leaders of the two parties.
‘Jungle raj’ in Punjab
People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) chief Manpreet Singh Badal, the estranged nephew of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, feels the rule of the Akali-BJP government in Punjab is worse than “jungle raj”. Responding to media queries during his recent visit to Amritsar, Manpreet said: “It is worse than jungle rule. In the jungle, the animals abide by certain rules. The king of the jungle, that is the lion, will kill (animals) only if he is hungry and will not just go on a killing spree. However, in Punjab, there is no such rule as here they (Akali leaders) seem to be hungry all the time. There is no end to their satisfaction.” Manpreet was the finance minister in the Badal government from 2007 to 2010.
The ‘soft’ CM
The equation between Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar and his ministerial colleagues, especially those who were seen as contenders for the top post, remains unclear. They have been having regular meetings, but do not always speak with one voice on several issues, often expressing their views through tweets. The CM recently tweeted that he had reduced 175 guards from his security and his ministers should also not consider it as a status symbol and travel with less security. While his suggestion drew positive reactions on the microblogging site, the tweet also buttressed the view that there was something amiss in their communication. There were followers who felt that the CM should direct his ministers and not make requests through tweets.
Following his predecessor
Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar is also following his predecessor Bhupinder Singh Hooda in some way. While Hooda had appointed MS Chopra, an under-secretary in the Union parliamentary affairs ministry, as his officer on special duty (OSD), Khattar too has picked a central official, Vijay Sharma, from the Indian Railways Accounts Service as his OSD. While Chopra was regarded as Hooda’s alter ego and wielded enormous clout in the government, how well Sharma fits into Khattar’s scheme of things remains to be seen? With Sharma’s entry, the CM now has a long list of aides and advisers, including six OSDs. There is speculation that Jawahar Yadav, the first to be appointed as OSD by Khattar, would be moved out of the chief minister’s office as chairman of a board or corporation.
Singing different tunes
Political parties nitpick when in opposition, but they sound the same in power. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Haryana, which decided on Monday to set up a State Administrative Tribunal (SATs) for the state employees, justified it as a win-all move, giving the example of four states. The official press release cited the “encouraging” working of similar tribunals in Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharastra in support of the decision. Interestingly, all four states have a Congress connection.
The party is in power in Himachal, Kerala and Karnataka. In Maharastra, though the BJP is ruling the state now, the release cited the disposal of cases up to October 2014 when the Congress was in power in the state. In contrast, Congress leader and former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda, whose party’s governments in these states have had SATs, is opposing the BJP government’s decision to establish the administrative tribunal.
Ministers’ foreign sojourns
Two ministers of the seven-month-old BJP government in Haryana stand out for their foreign trips. While finance minister Capt Abhimanyu has already been to Europe and the US, agriculture minister OP Dhankar too was abroad a few days ago. The finance minister, on coming back from his tour, said he had urged Belarus to set up a tractor factory in Haryana and Sweden to help the state government in developing Panipat and Karnal as smart cities. However, one would have to wait for what Dhankar has to say on the outcome of his visit to green markets in different countries.
Raje stuns HP govt
Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia took the Himachal Pradesh (HP) government by surprise when she landed at the scenic Annandale helipad in Shimla the other day. Her government had made no official communication with the Himachal government about her trip which is being described as “private”. The state police immediately rushed pilot and escort vehicles, but she refused, driving straightaway to Hotel Wildflower Hall at Chharabra. When Himachal chief secretary P Mitra sent an official communication to his Rajasthan counterpart, the reply left him red-faced. The Rajasthan chief secretary, it is learnt, informed him that even he was not aware of Raje’s private visit to Shimla.
Committed to his faith
An ardent follower of his ancestral deity Bhimakali, Himachal chief minister Virbhadra Singh is a man committed to his faith. The CM, whose government had made Himachal the first state in the country in 2007 to adopt legislation to ban illegal conversion, recently took time out from his hectic schedule to take a holy dip in the Ganga. Virbhadra and his wife, former parliamentarian Pratibha Singh, drove to Haridwar for the holy dip before flying to Bhopal to attend the marriage of Dalhousie legislator Asha Kumari’s nephew.
Sukhu’s strong actions
Himachal Pradesh Congress Committee chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, known for his proximity with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, is capable of taking harsh decisions even if they are opposed by senior leaders of the party in the state. Notwithstanding the opposition, he first managed to get Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s nod to create more organisational districts in the state. Then, he also announced presidents of newly-created party districts units of Kangra, Nurpur, Dehra, Sundernagar and Mandi, leaving senior leaders, including chief minister Virbhadra Singh, health minister Kaul Singh and transport minister GS Bali frowning. These leaders had made several covert attempts to thwart the move to create new district units.
Nadda’s growing clout
The frequent visits of union health minister Jagat Parkash Nadda to Himachal Pradesh have caused a flutter in political circles of the state. When Nadda again came to the state capital to list achievements of the one-year of the Narendra Modi-led government, his growing clout was more than evident, causing concern in former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal’s camp. As many as 11 legislators were there when he addressed media at Hotel Peterhoff. Himachal BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti, Randhir Sharma, Suresh Bhardwaj, Dr Rajeev Saijal, Jai Ram Thakur, Govind Ram Sharma, Inder Singh, Govind Thakur, Mohinder Singh and Rikhi Ram Kaundal were among those present.
Young leader’s slip-up
To err is human, but mistakes can be really embarrassing at times. Himachal chief minister Virbhadra Singh’s son and Himachal Youth Congress chief Vikramaditya Singh led the Kisan Satyagrah Padyatra — a part of the Youth Congress’ nation-wide campaign against the Centre’s land bill — and addressed a press conference the other day. The young leader touched several issues before speaking on injustice with Kargil martyr Saurabh Kalia. Minutes later, when he was asked what the state government would do for the slain soldier, he replied with a question: “Who is Saurabh Kalia?” All those present, including his party colleagues, were shocked and would probably advise him to do better homework next time.
Battle for watermelons
The Dharamsala leg of the “Kisan Satyagrah Padyatra” virtually made the hill town a battle zone with two warring state ministers trying to show their strength. Transport Minister GS Bali and urban development minister Sudhir Sharma held parallel rallies which were to converge at the same venue. As it was a hot day, Sharma and his team had put a stall near the rally venue to offer watermelon to their supporters. However, when Bali’s followers reached the rally site before the rival group, the urban development minister’s men, anticipating an onslaught on their juicy delicacies, were seen running off with watermelon platters on their heads.
Love for Maggi
Maggi, marketed with a ‘Do minute mein khushiyan’ tagline, may have been banned in some states or withdrawn from the stores by the company in others, but there is no dearth of those wanting to have their last bit of happiness by finishing the stock lying in their homes. Himachal Pradesh additional chief secretary, health, Vineet Chawdhary is himself very fond of Maggi. “I had two packets of Maggi at my house. I told my wife in the morning that controversy or no controversy, we should have the last stock for breakfast,” he said. Vineet’s wife Upma Chawdhary is also additional chief secretary in the state government.
Jasbir Jassi’s affection for hill state
Punjabi singer Jasbir Jassi, who quit engineering to study classical music, enthralled the audience on the opening day of Summer Festival in Shimla. The singer took the audience by surprise when he took the camera of one of the photographers and started clicking pictures. “I love people of Himachal Pradesh. I want to take these memories along with me,” he declared to loud cheers from the audience.
(Contributed by Pawan Sharma, Navneet Sharma, Harkirat Singh, Hitender Rao, Rajesh Moudgil, Gaurav Bisht and Naresh K Thakur)