Regional buzz: Worthy deputy CM Punjab ji!

  • HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 09, 2015 12:05 IST
Illustration: Daljeet Kaur Sandhu/HT

Worthy deputy CM Punjab ji!

It's a kissa Punjab de babu di chaploosi daa. ‘Babuji’, a senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, is currently holding the post of special principal secretary (residence) to deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. Last month, he drafted a six-line letter to half-a-dozen bureaucrats requesting them to attend a review meeting on power issues. What’s all the hullaballoo about? Actually, ‘Babuji’ has, in his letter, addressed Sukhbir Badal as “Worthy deputy chief minister Punjab ji” in every sentence. “Worthy deputy chief minister Punjab ji shall take a review meeting at 5pm…Worthy deputy chief minister Punjab ji has desired that you may attend the meeting personally please,” it read. In six lines, the officer wrote “worthy” and “Ji” together over a dozen times to please, nay, appease his boss. But the deputy CM, grapevine has it, is not amused by this unabashed sycophancy. And, other bureaucrats in the deputy CM’s office are chuckling indeed.

A SAD man’s grouse

“They call us when they need us otherwise they are not even willing to talk to us and take our calls” is what former Akali minister Ajaib Singh Mukhmailpur had to say about Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his top ministers when he came to Chandigarh from Patiala last week to attend a meeting. The meeting had been called by the CM at Punjab Bhawan regarding arrangements for the September 11 rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “I am here to discuss the crowds to be roped in for the rally,” said Mukhmailpur whose wife Harpreet Kaur is Akali MLA from Ghanour.

Banking on media heavily

With the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) getting into pre-election mode for the 2017 assembly polls, some party leaders seem desperate to come into the limelight. Former minister Hira Singh Gabria, who held cultural affairs and jails portfolio in 2007, was completely ignored in 2012. Having tried hard to remain in mainstream politics in Ludhiana all these years, Gabria has become active and goes to the media at the drop of a hat to establish his importance in the party. Being the chairman of district planning and development committee, he has hardly called any meetings.

Gabria is, however, hoping that his frequent press meets get him all the media coverage he needs. The most interesting was the humble request to photo-journalists at the last conference. “Photographer zarur padharan di kirpalta karan (Photographers must oblige with a visit),” it read.

The ‘all-powerful’ PSPCL boss

A buzz in the power sector is that Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) chairman-cum-managing director KD Chaudhari got principal secretary, power, Anurag Aggarwal transferred from the department after the latter raised a few issues about the corporation’s functioning. While there is no official confirmation so far about his hand in the transfer, the CMD is undoubtedly powerful and has been drawing strength from his big claims about bringing major improvements in the politically significant sector.

Chaudhari and Aggarwal had never got along well from the time the latter was heading Punjab State Transmission Corporation Limited. “While he has been winning awards from central agencies, some state officers point fingers at him,” a power sector officer said, quoting the PSPCL boss.

With no one watching, babus take a break

“When the cat is away, the mice will play” is how an old saying goes. As Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal was in Delhi for a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal on tour to South Korea, the Punjab civil secretariat housing the offices of ministers and top bureaucrats wore a deserted look on Monday. The ministers and officers just did not show up. Another reason for their absence was that Tuesday was also a public holiday on account of Prakash Gurpurab of Shri Guru Granth sahib. However, they all had to rush to Chandigarh on Tuesday morning as the holiday was postponed by the government.

‘Phoren’ interest in SAD

Notwithstanding the recent heckling, booing and criticism of leaders of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) during their recent visit to Canada and the US, a large number of Punjabis and Sikhs settled in these countries are keen to become overseas office-bearers of the party. They have been making frantic calls to an Akali leader in Punjab to find out about their status in the party. “A post in the Akali party will give us acknowledgement back home” is how a Virginia-based non-resident Punjabi from Gurdaspur put it.

One party, varied voices

BJP legislator Santosh Yadav’s election as deputy speaker of the Haryana Vidhan Sabha on Friday once again brought out the lack of unity and coordination in the opposition Congress. While the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) backed her candidature, Congress leaders spoke in different voices. Congress Legislature Party leader Kiran Choudhry opposed the Ateli MLA’s candidature on the floor of the House, raking up her name in the recent wall collapse incident in Mahendragarh in which 11 labourers were killed.

However, her colleague Karan Singh Dalal welcomed the move to have a woman deputy speaker. Another Congress leader and former minister Capt Ajay Singh Yadav, a former minister, went a step further and heaped lavish praise on her. “She is an educated and assiduous leader. Besides education, she has been an excellent sportsperson. I am happy that a capable MLA from Ahirwal has been made deputy speaker,” Capt Yadav, who is an ex-MLA, posted on Facebook, terming it a matter of respect for south Haryana.

Hooda’s power play

Haryana Congress leader and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda appears to be trying hard to show his hold over the party in the state. Before the start of the monsoon session of the Vidhan Sabha, Congress Legislature Party leader Kiran Choudhry convened a meeting of party MLAs at Chandigarh. Though the party’s floor strategy is decided in the CLP meeting, Hooda held a separate meeting of MLAs at Karnal. Of 15 Congress legislators, 14 owe allegiance to the former chief minister.

The MLAs later also attended the CLP meeting where two central leaders, including AICC general secretary in-charge of Haryana affairs Shakeel Ahmad, and Haryana Congress president Ashok Tanwar, were also present. Though Choudhry apparently does not seem to like this show of strength by the ex-CM, she does not show it. “As Tanwar has not allowed Hooda much say in party matters, he is trying to show his hold through the meetings with MLAs. It’s not surprising,” remarked a party leader.

Khattar’s interest in press lobby

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar made a surprise, and also his maiden, visit to the press lobby during the ongoing session of the Vidhan Sabha. The reporters, who saw in it an opportunity for a sound bite or two from the media-shy CM, did not get any response. Khattar told them that he had come to see the area as he had not been there before. Accompanied by his team of advisers, he just took a round of the press lobby. “Dekhen to sahi hamari ankhen aur hamare kaan kahan aur kaise baithate hin (I just want to see where and how the eyes and ears of the society sit),” the chief minister said before leaving.

Making fast moves

He joined chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s team as an officer on special duty (OSD) only three months ago, but Indian Railway Accounts Service officer Vijay Sharma appears to have quickly consolidated his position. The officer, who was inducted by Khattar on the “recommendation” of a top functionary of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, has been accompanying the chief minister for several of his meetings with members of the Union cabinet lately.

When he had joined the chief minister’s office (CMO), Sharma had not got much importance to begin with. He was given an office on the 8th floor of the Haryana civil secretariat and not on the 4th floor that houses the offices of Khattar and his close aides. While the OSD has been now given a spacious office on the 4th floor, Amit Arya, media adviser to chief minister, has been moved out of the power corridor and is being allotted a room close to where the state public relations director and his team have their offices on the 8th floor.

Courtesy calls don’t make ministers

Every time Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh dashes to New Delhi, there is speculation in political circles about a cabinet reshuffle and his detractors get hyperactive. During his latest trip, Virbhadra Singh met AICC general secretary in-charge of Himachal affairs Ambika Soni in charge for Himachal affairs while his detractor Kaul Singh Thakur met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Thakur’s meeting with the two party bigwigs was the first since the controversial audio CD leak and was being seen as politically significant. He had blamed a close confidante of the CM for the episode. However, Virbhadra appears unruffled. “If courtesy calls to high command had made the difference, many legislators would have become ministers by now. But I don’t understand why people read into all these visits to Delhi,” he remarked.

Hunt for room culminates

Chief minister Virbhadra Singh recently inducted Banjar MLA Karan Singh, who had been waiting for a cabinet berth for 32 months, in his council of ministers. The new minister had to scout for a room in Himachal Pradesh secretariat thereafter. Given co-operative and ayurveda departments, Karan Singh was finally allotted the room occupied by the CM’s political adviser and former minister Rangila Ram Rao. The latter was not allotted any room though. Now it’s his turn to look for a new room to set up his office.

Bali’s tough stance

Transport minister GS Bali is known for his mercurial temperament. In a recent cabinet meeting, Bali strongly opposed the changes in the power policy that had failed to evoke much response from the power project promoters. Though he did not have backing of others, Bali alone took on the ministers supporting the changes and an additional chief secretary-rank officer who was also present in the meeting presided over by chief minister Virbhadra Singh. The minister was opposed to reduction in lease money for land allotted to power projects from 10% to 1%.

Catch-22 for Jammu PDP

The Jammu unit of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was publicly scolded by party president Mehbooba Mufti for bringing hired workers at a party function. After the formation of the state government, the district unit had invited the PDP chief for its convention. Mehbooba was apparently uncomfortable because of the extreme hot and humid conditions with very few fans. On spotting a few women in the front, she sternly told the party workers not to bring “hired workers” to party convention, adding that this trend was only in Jammu, and not in Kashmir region. PDP had in the last elections won only three seats in Jammu region and that too from Rajouri and Poonch districts. With the party entering into an alliance with the BJP, which had almost swept the Jammu region, party workers are now finding it more difficult to build up its activities. However, none of the leaders can dare say this to Mehbooba.


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