From bickering leaders to defiant bureaucrats, from misogyny in Punjabi songs to murky land deals of politicians, from Akali Dal jathedars frolicking on beaches of Goa to a former militant fasting for parole of fellow jailbirds, the year 2013 saw people making news in all seasons, for all reasons. HT brings you 13 sparring pairs, who traded a no-holds-barred war of words, as barbs and brickbats became the flavour of the year. Also, a flashback on 13 top newsmakers of 2013 from the four states — Punjab, Haryana, Himachal and J&K.
Amarinder vs Bajwa
Fragile egos, frayed tempers
Once a minister in his cabinet, Gurdaspur MP Partap Singh Bajwa toppled then Punjab Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh with some deft networking in New Delhi. The former CM made no bones about his disappointment with Bajwa’s appointment as state party chief and fired his first salvo within no time, saying he would have suggested a better successor, if consulted. Since then, many luncheons have been hosted by the erstwhile Patiala royal to keep his flock intact, while Bajwa has tried the pledge route to ensure loyalty in the faction-ridden party. When Bajwa launched a yatra, Capt pulled off a parallel show. A confidential letter written by Amarinder to Congress president Sonia Gandhi alleging Bajwa had terror links sparked a fresh row that simmered till an open trading of barbs between the two at a public rally at Sangrur in October in the presence of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. It was followed by Punjab affairs in-charge Shakeel Ahmed serving a unity lunch to all warring factions in New Delhi. The latest in the series is Capt asking Bajwa not to go public with his opinion on winnability of Punjab Congress MPs.
Selja vs Hooda
Rohtak, not Haryana, shining?
In the chorus against Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, her voice is the loudest. Union social justice and empowerment minister Kumari Selja openly tore into the Hooda government while sharing a stage with him for “ignoring her constituency, regional bias in development works and atrocities on Dalits’’. The Ambala MP minced no words in ridiculing Hooda’s Haryana No. 1 claim and said her constituency’s projects were stalled by his government and she was now raising the issue publicly. She also did a tit-for-tat by not inviting Hooda to a rally in Ambala after she was “cold-shouldered” by him and not sent an invite for the Gohana rally. The Hooda camp’s main worry is Selja’s proximity to Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Badal vs Raja Warring
War over sangat darshans
How do you make news in the bastion of the CM? You take on him head-on. That’s what first-time Congress MLA Raja Warring did. A newsmaker last year for beating the Badal family rebel, Manpreet Singh Badal, on his own turf, the Gidderbaha MLA made his presence felt in the Punjab assembly by manhandling assembly watch and ward staff. He shot to fame again by storming into the sangat darshan programme of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal at Khirkian Wala village of his constituency. Badal tried to disarm Warring by inviting him to air people-related issues. But Warring garnered enough publicity by calling sangat darshans “an unplanned exercise of governance where time and money of the administration is wasted to keep Badal in good humour and only address grievances of Akali workers”. It led to a full-blown faceoff with party chief Partap Singh Bajwa asking all Congress MLAs to emulate Warring, while the Shiromani Akali Dal launched a counter-offensive and termed it a “publicity stunt”.
Virbhadra vs Dhumal
Cricket, chopping and worse
Vendetta politics in Himachal Pradesh is getting up, close and personal. Soon after taking charge, chief minister Virbhadra Singh ordered a probe into phone-tapping by his predecessor Prem Kumar Dhumal. The sparring touched a new low as the Congress government took over cricket stadiums of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association led by Dhumal’s son, Anurag Thakur. The high court later restored them to the HPCA. Again, during a public function, Virbhadra made a veiled attack on his predecessor saying that he could even chop off the fingers that are being raised on him. Dhumal replied in the same tone and tenor, saying that for every finger that Virbhadra points at him, four are pointed back towards him. A miffed BJP also ensured Virbhadra’s chopping remarks found mention in its chargesheet against the Congress government.
Majithia vs kairon
Battle of the brothers-in-law
In the “family-run enterprise” of the Badal government, a battle of supremacy seems to be now raging between the brothers-in-law of deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. As jamai raja (son-in-law) of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, food, civil supplies and IT minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon holds sway over key ministries in the government, but Sukhbir’s firebrand brother-in-law, public relations and revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, too is known to have his way. The two clashed during a cabinet meeting in the presence of the CM over the state’s industrial policy and grant of ministerial status to Sukhbir’s newly-appointed media advisers. Majithia, who brought in the new advisers would not have no for an answer even as some ministers of the saffron party too agreed with Kairon.
Kuldeep vs Kuldeep
War over defection
The war over defection of MLAs turned into a war of wits between Haryana Speaker Kuldeep Sharma and Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) chief Kuldeep Bishnoi. After upholding the merger of five HJC MLAs into the Congress who had extended a crucial prop to the Hooda government in 2009, a combative Sharma angered the younger son of former chief minister Bhajan Lal by calling him a “fukra” (show-off). “He is shallow, builds castles in the air and his character is that of a master defector. He is the son of a defector,” Sharma said. Bishnoi called Sharma “dim-witted” and slammed the Speaker for “raping the anti-defection law” and also threatened a defamation suit against Sharma.
Abdullah vs Modi
twitter counter attack
BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi gave Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah a reason to fire a barrage of tweets. At his Lalkaar rally in Jammu, Modi provoked the CM by saying, “The rights that your chief minister has, does his sister Sarah Pilot enjoy the same rights? No, because she married outside the state. Should there be discrimination again women in J&K? Shouldn’t the injustice stop? The government’s unwilling to discuss the pros and cons of Article 370. Nehru wanted the article to slowly go away.” An angry Omar retorted through back-to-back tweets saying, “He (Modi) very conveniently used me and my sister as examples to illustrate a point that has no bearing on truth. Either he lies or is ill-informed...We are ready to talk to anyone on the subject (of Article 370) even if you select Ahmedabad in Gujarat as a venue for the same.”
Pannu vs Maluka
The naysayer’s lesson
It was the running story of the year: an officer at the helm of education department versus his mighty minister. Punjab IAS officer Kahan Singh Pannu’s stint as the state’s director general of school education (DGSE) was anything but uneventful. His bitter differences with education minister Sikandar Singh Maluka surfaced when Pannu indicted a purchase committee handpicked by the minister for flouting norms in the purchase of library books, science kits and map masters. An eager opposition lapped up the row and got a central team from the union human resource development ministry to come visiting for a probe. The fireworks were still on when the officer landed in a bigger controversy after a video of a group of men assaulting him at Uttarakhand, where he was sent to oversee relief operations, went viral. The officer hinted and the opposition openly pointed to Maluka’s complicity in the attack but ingenuity of the Punjab Police ensured only the truth about the ones who uploaded the video was out, not the attackers. Maluka’s head was saved by Pannu’s unceremonious exit from the education department.
J&K DGP vs Geelani
Heated exchange in the Valley
Someone whose feathers the Kashmir Valley’s mainstream politicians prefer not to ruffle was targeted by the state’s top cop. DGP Ashok Prasad took on hardline Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani by saying, “If your (Geelani’s) rallies are likely to create a law and order problem how can they be allowed? VHP’s Praveen Togadia and BJP’s Arun Jaitely were stopped from making speeches, Geelani is not even an elected representative. Wherever Geelani goes he legitimises stone-pelting and the use of the gun....Unmarked graves are a normal thing in Kashmir but some people are trying to make an issue out of it.” Geelani hit back saying that he represented sentiments of the majority population in Kashmir and comparing him with Jaitley and Togadia, who have nothing to do with Kashmir, smacked of “imperialist mentality”. He went on to add, “One must ask the DGP that if they are sure that there are no mass graves in Kashmir, why is the Indian government reluctant in initiating an inquiry by international human rights organisations?”
VK Singh vs J&K Assembly
Former army chief VK Singh’s sensational disclosure on pay-offs to Kashmir politicians sparked a verbal war between the legislators and him. “It is an old practice, in vogue since 1947, to pay politicians in J&K,” remarked Singh in an interview. The remark angered one and all, cutting across party lines. Jammu and Kashmir Speaker Mubarak Gul issued a breach of privilege notice to Singh to explain his pay-off allegations. Singh sent his reply, including a CD. Both the ruling National Conference and opposition PDP are gunning for his head for “bringing disrepute and discrediting them”.
Sidhus vs Badals
Two, too much?
This couple has more in common than just their first name. Cricketer-turned-MP Navjot Singh Sidhu and his firebrand wife MLA Navjot Kaur Sidhu kept the ruling Badals and the top BJP brass on tenterhooks with their bouncers. The sulking MP blamed his long absence from Amritsar constituency on the Badals scuttling development projects by diverting money. A furious Sidhu also threatened a fast-unto-death though he had to beat a hasty retreat. The crisis was defused after BJP chief Rajnath Singh came down to meet chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. Sidhu’s wife was all praises for the Badals but kept the saffron party in a tizzy as chief parliamentary secretary, health. After locking horns with health minister Madan Mohan Mittal, who was later “elevated” as industry minister, she accused BJP leaders and workers of Amritsar of boycotting her functions. The BJP’s grumble: One Sidhu is enough, two too much.
Sukhpal Khaira vs NK Sharma
Former Congress MLA Sukhpal Khaira seems to have mastered the art of being in the news even in defeat. Refusing to fade into oblivion, Khaira made enough noise this year sitting outside the assembly. His first coup was a lateral entry into the coterie of new incumbent Partap Singh Bajwa as spokesman. But the bonhomie could not last long. Khaira’s tirade against Akali Dal treasurer and Dera Bassi MLA NK Sharma’s “murky” realty deals had an unexpected casualty – Bajwa and his younger brother. In a counter attack, Sharma prepared a dossier on the Bajwa brothers’ land deals. It was used as a trade-off between the two sides to keep the lid on the controversy. But it blew off and Bajwa found himself at the centre of a raging controversy. A defenceless Bajwa called Khaira a “misguided missile”. The whistleblowers too are facing the heat -- Sharma’s two main residential projects have been issued notices for flouting environment norms and Khaira is no more in Bajwa’s confidant circle.
Khemka vs Vadra/Hooda govt
Lone-ranger wages many battles
Whistleblower, lone ranger, fighter… senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka earned more epithets as he took on none other than the son-in-law of the country’s first family. Khemka, who has been transferred over 44 times in his 19-year stint so far, kicked up a political storm by cancelling the mutation of a land deal between Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and realty major DLF. The Haryana government did what it does best – Khemka was transferred yet again and charge-sheeted for ‘‘administrative misconduct and overstepping his jurisdiction’’ in cancelling the mutation of the Vadra land deal. It blamed him for the alleged poor sale of wheat seeds by the Haryana Seeds Development Corporation during his stint as managing director. An over-zealous principal secretary of agriculture, Roshan Lal, recommended a vigilance probe into what he termed as “irregularity in allotment of a work” for roofing warehouses during Khemka’s tenure as managing director, Haryana State Warehousing Corporation (HSWC), in 2009. The latest: Khemka is being courted by the Aam Aadmi Party that is looking at Haryana as its next seat of power.
And the newsmakers are...
Old warhorses, new jailbirds
It couldn’t have been a worse start to the new year for Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) supremo and former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala. The sitting MLA from Uchana and his elder son and Dabwali MLA Ajay Chautala were sentenced by a Delhi court to 10 years imprisonment under the Prevention of Corruption Act on January 22 for irregularities relating to the appointment of 3,206 junior teachers. The SC rejected the ailment plea of Chautala Senior and the father-son duo are lodged in Tihar Jail.
Salt-and-pepper-beard-sporting Akali leaders frolicking in Goa might be a sight difficult to imagine but Shiromani Akali Dal president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal made that possible. The changemaker of 2013 gave senior Akali and ally BJP leaders the opportunity to attend a ‘chintan shivir’ in the honeymooners’ paradise in April. He went on to wrap up the year by getting industry honchos to come and commit big-ticket investments at the Progressive Punjab summit.
Two back-to-back poll drubbings saw the Congress effecting a generational shift. Gurdaspur MP Partap Singh Bajwa was appointed Punjab Congress chief in March, replacing Capt Amarinder Singh. Bajwa, who faced the unenviable task of uniting the party’s warring factions, had an inauspicious start from the word go. The high command cancelled his first few appointments and named four deputies. He also had turf-war with leader of opposition Sunil Jakhar. Bajwa also found himself in the midst of a land deal controversy, that rocked the assembly and forced him to cry political vendetta.
Olympian in trouble
The 2008 Beijing Olympics bronze medallist and Arjuna awardee found himself on wrong side of the law after Punjab Police recovered 26 kg of heroin from Canada-based alleged smuggler Anoop Singh Kahlon. During questioning, Kahlon claimed that the boxer and his sparring partner Ram Singh were among his customers. Later, Ram Singh revealed both Vijender and he had been experimenting with heroin. Vijender sailed through the storm after a drug test came negative and denied knowing Kahlon or taking drugs.|
Rapper faces the music
Misogyny and chauvinism are not new to Punjabi music. But public anger over the Delhi gangrape last year found rapper Honey Singh, 28, facing the music over his offensive lyrics. An FIR was registered against him at Nawanshahr for obscene acts and lyrics in May. Singh, who has sung for Bollywood movies, approached the Punjab and Haryana high court in September, seeking the quashing of the FIR, saying he had not authored lyrics of the song, ‘Main hoon balatkari (I am a rapist)’. The year saw him making more rounds of courts than concerts.
reigns at box-office
A biopic on legendary Indian sprinter Milkha Singh released this year not only had a dream run at the box office but also paid a rich tribute to the Olympian. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag won both commercial success and critical acclaim for depicting the trails and travails of Milkha from his journey from Pakistan to India after the country’s partition to his getting the Flying Singh honour after his memorable win in Pakistan. Actor Farhan Akhtar’s extensive physical training to portray Milkha too won accolades. Close on heels of the movie’s release, an autobiography, The Race of My Life, penned by his daughter was also released.
Balbir Pal Shah
Somersaulter of the year
Another rebel who created a flutter in the Bhupinder Singh Hooda Government was four-time Congress MLA Balbir Pal Shah, who resigned as a legislator in August, against the indifferent state Congress leadership and bureaucracy only to withdraw it and hail Hooda’s leadership, all in quick succession. Though Hooda met him personally to assuage his hurt, Shah chose to give credit to the central Congress leadership for making him stay back.
Rao Inderjit Singh
the Rebel bows out
Rao Inderjit Singh was again in the news for accusing Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda of regional bias. The rebel Congress MP from Gurgaon finally parted ways with the party and launched his own front, the Haryana Insaf Manch. He sought a probe into all 21,000 cases of change of land use (CLU) in Gurgoan, including against Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and realty major DLF. His famed riposte for Hooda: Gurgaon accounts for more than 55% of the total revenue of the state but lacks basic amenities and law and order.
Union minister Farooq Abdullah was in the eye of a storm for his sexist remark this year. “These days, I am afraid of talking to women. In fact, I don’t even want to keep a woman secretary. God forbid, if there’s a complaint against me and I end up in jail,” he said. The remark sparked an outrage forcing Abdullah to eat a humble pie. “If I have hurt anyone’s sentiment, I apologise. I feel the time has come for giving women justice and reservation in Parliament,” he said making a U-turn.
‘Resigning’ to fate
He staked his claim to the chief minister’s chair before last year’s elections in Himachal with the blessings of party general secretary in-charge Birender Singh. High-profile transport minister GS Bali again made headlines again this year after he threatened the five-month-old Virbhadra Singh government with his resignation. The provocations were many, including a World Bank-aided tourism project for Dharamsala. He, however, stayed put in the ministry and not much was later heard of the reported resignation.
Weathering the storm
He survives in a government he is accused of having tried to topple. Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir, who represents Kashmir’s Tangmarg constituency, hit the headlines when the army’s internal inquiry to probe the misuse of the Technical Support Division sprung his name as the one who offered to topple chief minister Omar Abdullah’s government in 2010. Mir was accused of taking `1.19 crore from the army to destabilise the government in 2010, which saw widespread street battles between stone-throwers and security personnel. Mir, however, survived the political storm by lying low.
New kid on the block
In the dynastic politics of Himachal, he is the new entrant. His election as president of the Himachal Youth Congress was cancelled in 2011 but after his father Virbhadra Singh was sworn in as the chief minister, Vikramaditya Singh, 24, again jumped in the fray and emerged victorious. A trained shooter, the scion of the erstwhile royal family declared to take on the Dhumals in their stronghold of Hamirpur soon after donning the family’s mantle.
Brothers in arms
A former Sikh militant on parole scripted an unusual tribute for his fellow jailbirds. Gurbaksh Singh embarked on an indefinite fast at a Mohali gurdwara till six militants, who he claimed had completed their life sentence, were also freed. With his demand finding support from opposition leader Capt Amarinder Singh and Beant Singh’s family, the Badal regime lost no time in seeking the release of the six on parole from respective states. Despite an Akal Takht ‘hukamnama’ to Gurbaksh to end his fast, the defiant former militant fasted till he secured the parole of a few. It was a face-saver for both him and the Badal government.
Compiled by : Sukhdeep Kaur
Illustrations: Daljeet Kaur Sandhu