Gearing up for the top job
The political scene in Punjab looks hazy with one-and-a half years to go for the assembly polls, but there is no dearth of netas harbouring chief ministerial ambitions. "A number of politicians have got their achkan (a knee-length coat worn by men) stitched so that they can wear it when they become the CM," said leader of Opposition in the Vidhan Sabha Sunil Jakhar while talking to reporters last week about the political uncertainty in the Congress. Jakhar did not divulge if he had also got stitched one for himself. The Congress MLA from Abohar is currently backing Captain Amarinder Singh, a former CM who surely has a collection of achkans in his wardrobe, for the top job. However, it is a tad early to tell on whom Lady Luck would smile.
Non-resident Punjabis (NRPs) living in the United States and Canada have a typical style of addressing leaders from Punjab. Member of Parliament from Anandpur Sahib Prem Singh Chandumajra was addressed as "Chadu Singh Majra", agriculture minister Jathedar Tota Singh as "Tota Saab", rural development and panchayats minister Sikandar Singh Maluka as "Maluka Singh" during their recent tour to the two nations. Though the "goodwill ambassadors" of the Punjab government seemed embarrassed, they were helpless. It's anybody guess whether NRPs did it on purpose or not. But one thing is sure if anyone had tried this in the Akali leaders' home state, they would have had to face the music.
Cops on their toes
The shoe-hurling episode of 2014 had the cops on their toes during chief minister Parkash Singh Badal's address at a political rally held at Issuru near Khanna on Independence Day. Leaving no scope for laxity in security, the cops had extensively checked all the guests attending the function. But a group of people in the front row, who were wearing Punjabi juttis and took them off while listening to the CM's speech, triggered a panic reaction from the officials and policemen on duty. The cops rushed to the group, asking them to put on their juttis, and checked them thoroughly. The policemen, who were in civvies, also started picking up the empty water bottles and other waste. "Chalo isse bahane police thodi safai vi kar devegi," jibed a member of the audience.
Punjab's Nelson Mandela!
Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) leader Simranjit Singh Mann is referred to as Punjab's Nelson Mandela by the Sikh radical organisations in North American countries. While Mann has not been given a visa to visit the North American countries, his supporters gave a tough time to ministers from Punjab and office-bearers of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) during their recent visit to these countries. "Our leader is much liked in foreign countries, but he cannot visit those countries. On the contrary, those who are disliked are trying to garner goodwill," claimed Mann's close aide Jaswant Singh Mann. "At the same time, it is difficult to replicate foreign goodwill in Punjab," he added.
Manohar Lal Khattar is seen by many as the most mediashy chief minister of Haryana in recent times, but then who does not want some publicity. His public relations managers have been working hard for maximum mileage in the media coverage for his maiden foreign trip. Before the official delegation led by Khattar left for the 10-day official tour of the US and Canada to attract investments, his aides and public relations team worked on a list of to-do things. They created a WhatsApp group comprising the CM's aides, a few senior officials and some members of the public relations department. The CM's team kept posting press notes and pictures, exchanged messages and took feedback on media coverage back home on a real-time basis. The CM's social media team was also active and tried to popularise the "Happening Haryana" slogan. While the delegation signed some MoUs with companies, no major announcement on investment, except one with a US firm for $50 million, came through last week. Only time would tell how their efforts translate into fund flows to the state.
Placating party leaders
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership has scheduled the days and time for its ministers in Haryana to interact with workers at the party office in Chandigarh. Though the party claims to have made the arrangement for better coordination between the government and its cadres, the buzz is that it has been done to placate the party workers eyeing posts in the state and district-level bodies in the government or getting restless to get their personal works done. The ruling party also wants to keep the morale of its workers high in view of the ensuing panchayat elections. In the coming week, it is the turn of five ministers to camp at the party office and interact with workers from 11 am to 2 pm.
Sparring leaders weigh truce
Anticipating that the monsoon session of the Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Sabha could see fiery exchanges, speaker Brij Bihari Lal Butail convened an all-party meeting which was attended by chief minister Virbhadra Singh and leader of Opposition Prem Kumar Dhumal. The speaker's efforts to bring the sparring leaders together seemingly brought results. On the first day of the session, Virbhadra walked up to the Opposition benches and shook hands with Dhumal. When the Opposition members later wanted to raise the issue of a first information report (FIR) lodged against Naina Devi legislator Randhir Sharma, the CM announced that cases against the MLA would be withdrawn. The government had registered a case of rioting against the legislator who had tried to raise public issues in one of the meetings presided over by the CM. The government action had infuriated the saffron party.
Bias against women
During the session of the Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Sabha, BJP legislator and former social justice minister Sarveen Chaudhary lost her temper. She was ready to speak on her turn, but Kullu legislator Maheshwar Singh, chief of Himachal Lokhit Party, got up and raised an issue. Chaudhary, who is MLA from Shahpur, got upset and raised the issue of her right to speak in the House. The House was being biased and a woman legislator was not being allowed to have her say, she said. Later, she spoke on landslides in Drini village of her constituency.
Transfer after death
Call it apathy or callousness on the part of Himachal government. A senior assistant posted in mechanical wing of the public works department was transferred 10 days after his death. Om Parkash, who was posted in Dharamsala, died due to a landslide. However, the department issued his transfer order several days later, posting him to Keylong in Lahaul and Spiti district. When the faux pas was noticed, embarrassed higher-ups ordered an inquiry to fix responsibility for the lapse.
All for cabinet reshuffle
HP CM Virbhadra Singh has been visiting the national capital quite frequently lately. As soon as proceedings on the opening day of the monsoon session of the Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Sabha got over last week, the CM left for Delhi. He first visited President Pranab Mukherjee to express his condolences on the death of his wife. Later, Virbhadra met Ahmed Patel, political secretary of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and Ambika Soni, general secretary incharge of the party affairs in Himachal. While there has been talk for some time that the CM wants to reshuffle his cabinet, his meetings with central party leaders have given rise to fresh speculation.
No effect of blockade
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have been frequenting Shimla to inspect the latter's underconstruction cottage at Chharabra village. This time, Sonia was also accompanied by two of her friends. Police had a harrowing time in getting them to Chharabra as the Shimla-Chandigarh highway was blocked at Shoghi due to a major landslide. Sonia and Priyanka had to take a detour from Sabathu to reach Chharabra. However, in spite of the tiring journey, they spent considerable time at the under-construction cottage.
Father, son at variance
National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and son Omar Abdullah seemed to be at variance on the Indo-Pak National Security Adviser (NSA)-level talks, which were eventually called off. Omar, working president of the party, criticised the Centre and the state government for sabotaging the talks. He said the two power centres were playing in perfect jugalbandi with the state government first arresting separatists at Srinagar and then the Centre detaining them in Delhi. However, NC president Farooq squarely blamed Pakistan, more so its army, for sabotaging the talks by playing the Hurriyat card, which, he said, was the creation of Pakistan. Omar didn't utter a word against Hurriyat, but his father was not only highly critical of it but even congratulated the Modi government for its move to keep Hurriyat off the NSA talks.
Contributed by Gurpreet Singh Nibber, Chitleen K Sethi, Anshu Seth, Navneet Sharma, Rajesh Moudgil, Gaurav Bisht and Tarun Upadhyay