More staff than NRIs
You could call it a paradox. At the NRI sangat darshan (public meeting) held by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in Ludhiana, government employees outnumbered the complainants. The officials, including senior superintendents of police, deputy commissioners and additional deputy commissioners, were seated on the dais while other employees were standing near the stage with folded hands, irrespective of work or no work. Besides, English teachers of government schools were deputed on the registration counters to help NRIs and their kin. With lukewarm response from NRIs, an out-and-out government employees’ show it was.
Sukhbir a comedian?
CM Parkash Singh Badal, in his weeklong sangat darshan program in poll-bound Dhuri assembly constituency, urged the people to “correct the mistake” they made in the past by electing “comedian”, who “misled them with catchy speeches”. His appeal has irked comedian-turned-neta Bhagwant Mann of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), who is the MP from Sangrur, in which segment Dhuri falls. “Before criticising comedians, who take politics seriously, Badal saab should also know that the biggest comedian of Punjab is in his house!” Mann replied, taking a dig clearly at deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal. “We make people laugh, but Sukhbir is unique. He makes people laugh when he talks about development of Punjab. Mr Badal needs to answer whether he takes his son’s speeches seriously,” Mann added.
Harsimrat’s Obama moment
Union food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal was pretty excited about her meeting with US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the banquet hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee in Delhi on Sunday in honour of his counterpart. The Bathinda MP posted her photograph with Michelle on her Facebook page. And the picture went viral, with 57,000 people having pressed the ‘like’ button at last count on Sunday. Another 800 FB users shared it, making it her most popular FB post by far. The minister, according to her assistant media adviser, had also asked Obama what he would be taking back with him to the United States. “Obama took out a small Ganesha idol, saying he always carried it with him,” he said. Also, Harsimrat had urged the US President to visit Harmandar Sahib in Amritsar to acquaint himself with the Sikh faith and its traditions, but he couldn’t.
Royal faux pas averted
A political faux pas was averted when AAP MP from Patiala Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, along with his supporters, gathered near the statue of Sewa Singh Thikriwala, who led the Prajamandal Movement in early 1920s against the then maharaja of Patiala Bhupindra Singh, on his death anniversary. A few family members of Thikriwala were also called, but they left in a huff upon realising that it was a political function. The family, ironically, is now closely related to the Patiala royals and supports three-time former Patiala MP Preneet Kaur and her husband, former CM Capt Amarinder Singh. Amarinder’s mother Mohinder Kaur is also connected to the family.
Gandhi the doctor
To regularly attend Parliament, and also listen to grievances of his area’s people as their local representative, is a dual job not many MPs are able to balance. Patiala MP Dr Dharamvira Gandhi tries that, and doesn’t let his lifelong vocation — as a medical doctor — suffer either. “Are you happy?”, “Do you feel like crying?”, “Do you have an urge to drink alcohol when depressed?” the MP posed varied queries to his many patients, most of them from poor localities, at his Patiala clinic, even discouraging many from taking unnecessary medication. A first-timer in the Lok Sabha, the activist-doctor has regularly been raising issues of Punjab and beyond in Parliament, handing the clinic charge to his doctor son when in Delhi. “This is my job that gives me satisfaction,” Dr Gandhi, who has an MD degree, told the HT team about the medical profession. “My clinic also helps me keep in touch with my people as patients come from all nine assembly segments of my constituency.”
Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar recently decided to cap the marks for interview for appointments at 10% of the marks of written exam or academic criteria, in a bid to make all government recruitments merit-based. But it has not enthused some of his cabinet colleagues. When a proposal related to the recruitment and withdrawal of requisition sent for posts in some departments came up before the state cabinet on Friday, some ministers made known their views on the subject. One of them is learnt to have even expressed his doubts about the adverse impact of such a move on selection of applicants from rural areas. While some ministers were not in favour of such a cap on marks for interview, officials cited a court ruling on the marks fixed for viva voce/interview in support of the decision. But not all ministers were said to be fully satisfied. Other party leaders, eager to see their supporters in government jobs, are also closely watching the moves on the sensitive subject.
Haryana’s finance and industries minister Capt Abhimanyu is on ‘study leave’ for three weeks. He left for the US on Saturday night to pursue an executive management programme at the Harvard Business School in Boston. The 47-year-old first-time minister, who has studied law and journalism, had enrolled for the three-year programme in 2013. “I have to finish the programme and will be back on February 22,” he told HT. While he has the charge of 13 key departments, the soft-spoken Narnaund MLA has made full use of management skills acquired at the institute in the past two years. Once he is back, the minister will be busy with the state budget.
Substitute for punctuality
It seems once bitten twice shy for the new BJP government in Haryana. After delayed start to events or press conference pointed out at least twice in recent weeks, chief minister ML Khattar appears to have found his own solution. The otherwise punctual CM has started sending his ministerial colleagues to overcome his own inability to make it in time. This is what finance minister Capt Abhimanyu wanted the journalists to believe the other day. While Khattar was scheduled to brief scribes after the cabinet meeting on Friday, the FM reached the venue in his place, dot on time. Khattar, according to the minister, had sent him as he had some urgent work. As is their wont, the journalists rained questions on him.
Who leaked it?
The corridors of power in Haryana remained atwitter with speculation about the phone-conversation recording of the spat between social justice and empowerment minister Krishan Kumar Bedi and Kurukshetra chief medical officer Dr Vandana Bhatia last week. Who talked in disrespectful manner, why and how wasn’t the topic of discussion. What grabbed everyone’s attention was how the audio recording went viral on the social media within hours. Though there is talk that health minister Anil Vij shared the audio clip with his friends in the media, mystery remains how it went viral. Is it one of the ministers or the doctor or a journalist? There is no quick answer. Another version is that the recording reached opposition leaders and was leaked.
Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh and his rival, BJP leader Prem Kumar Dhumal have been locked in a war of words since long. But when the two leaders came face to face at Raj Bhawan to welcome Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh, who has been given additional charge of HP, they were quite courteous to each other. But when Kalyan Singh was sworn in as officiating governor the next day, the cold vibes were back, and all too apparent. Their interaction was limited to a handshake.
Wedding invite for PM?
CM Virbhadra Singh has been frequently meeting PM Narendra Modi for one or the other reason. This time, he called on the PM two days after his graft case came up for hearing in the Delhi high court. While his visits have become a talking point, his loyalists say that the CM met Modi to invite him for his daughter Aprajita Singh’s wedding scheduled for March 9 in New Delhi.
Hopes from Kalyan
Now that former BJP leader Kalyan Singh has been sworn in as the officiating governor of HP, BJP leaders feel they have someone who they could go to and express their concerns. After taking over, Kalyan also showed his concern about their well-being. “Aap kaafi kamzor lag rahe ho (You are looking feeble),” he told former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal. The state’s political circles are abuzz with speculation whether the former UP chief minister was expressing concern about Dhumal’s health or commenting on his diminishing clout in the party.
Himachal BJP leader and former minister Kishan Kapoor always tries to be an aggressive speaker. However, he loses track midway in his speeches, going off on a tangent and beyond. A few years ago, he had left exiled Tibetans amused when he thanked Rani Jhansi and Tantya Tope for Indian independence while congratulating spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on his birthday. Kapoor was in form once again the other day, when the Kangra unit of the BJP was protesting against an attack on its state office in Shimla. Speaking on how the attack took place, he suddenly started talking about the recovery of human skeletons in India. While some of those present wondered how it was linked to the Shimla clash, others tried hard to hold their laughter.
From the heart?
As CM Virbhadra Singh’s information technology adviser, Gokul Butail has been all praises for the initiatives taken by the Congress government in Himachal. That’s nothing new. But what took everyone by surprise was the praise the US-educated young techie lavished on PM Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann ki Baat’ programme on All India Radio.
CONTRIBUTED BY ANSHU SETH, NEERAJ MOHAN, KAMALDEEP SINGH BRAR, GURPREET SINGH NIBBER, PRABHJIT SINGH, NAVNEET SHARMA, RAJESH MOUDGIL, GAURAV BISHT AND NARESH K THAKUR