They can be daggers drawn and celebrate the bond of brother-sister with equal ease. The love-hate relationship of two former Punjab CMs, Captain Amarinder Singh and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, is on. Not very long ago, Captain had questioned Bhattal’s intellect to understand issues such as goods and services tax (GST) and the latter had told him to stop behaving like a “spoiled brat”and grow up. After Amarinder’s return as the state party chief, however, the bonhomie is back. Bhattal was duly invited and present at Amarinder’s ‘coronation’ and at the press conference on Thursday where he kept referring to her as a senior leader who would help him reach out to voters and Bhattal was all smiles. After all, it works to advantage of both. Bhattal, who has been left high and dry in the organisational revamp, is now eying a post in the campaign or election committee while Amarinder needs to humour his detractors to keep up the unity show to win the state polls.
Amarinder’s family keeps low profile
Unlike most other political clans across parties, Amritsar MP and former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh’s family did not hog the limelight at last week’s rally in Bathinda where he formally took charge of the Punjab Congress. While Amarinder was the star of the show, his wife Preneet Kaur, Congress MLA from Patiala, and their son Raninder Singh maintained a low profile. Preneet, who was minister of state for external affairs in the UPA regime, greeted and chatted with party leaders, including campaign committee chief Ambika Soni, before settling down in one of the back rows. Raninder also stood close to the front row of the main dais only for a brief while midway through the public meeting. The day belonged to a charged-up Amarinder who has become the state unit chief for the third time.
For that auspicious start
Forced ousters don’t make auspicious innings, Punjab Congress leaders who left official bungalows and offices with a heavy-heart will tell you. It took two years for Congress Legislature Party leader Sunil Jakhar to get a government bungalow after his reluctant predecessor Rajinder Kaur Bhattal vacated it with a heavy heart. Jakhar’s innings ended abruptly despite a flying start. In case of former Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa, the forced ouster has been from the party presidency. No wonder his successor, Captain Amarinder Singh, was not in a hurry to take charge of the office Bajwa left with a heavy heart. The former Patiala royal even heeded “astrological” advice for an auspicious start to his innings. Spooked by poll defeats, pandits, tantriks, astrologers...all are welcome!!
AAP dissenters’ bypoll blues
Patiala MP Dr Dharamvira Gandhi was excited when AAP dissenter Sumail Sidhu declared his intention of contesting the Khadoor Sahib bypoll. He even announced his wholehearted support to the former AAP leader. But he started singing a different tune a few days later, clarifying that he was not aware of the aspirations of another AAP dissenter Bhai Baldeep Singh who also expressed keenness to contest the election. In a laboriously drafted elaborate explanation on his Facebook page, the MP said Baldeep Singh deserved to get the support of the people as he had already contested the Lok Sabha elections from Khadoor Sahib and Sidhu should have consulted him before declaring his candidature.
Playing it cool
Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal’s repeated references to the Aam Aadmi Party and its leaders as “oh topi walle” in the recent Sadbhavna rallies wasn’t in good taste. But the AAP leaders, who wear white caps, didn’t react. During a recent interaction with reporters in Ludhiana, when AAP leaders were asked about their “cool response” to the deputy CM’s dismissive way of referring to them, they said they were undeterred by criticism. “We are being snubbed as non-entities and yet there is not a single platform where the AAP is not mentioned. This shows that the party is giving sleepless nights to the deputy CM,” said the members of anti-corruption wing of the party.
Power panel in a fix
The Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission (PSERC) appears to be in a fix over the proposal of the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited to supply power to industry at a cheap rate of `4.99 per unit. An announcement to this effect had been made by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal at an investment meet in the state. While PSERC has hinted that the proposal lacks basis as per the electricity regulations, it is still to take a final call. There is buzz that commission chairperson Romila Dubey is buying time till the completion of her term in the first week of February next year. The commission has fixed the hearing on January 12.
The Union power ministry has a strange way of working. The Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) has been without a regular chairman from the time AB Agrawal’s extended tenure got over many months ago. Newly appointed board members SK Sharma and VK Kalra speak in once voice on the need for a regular chairman. Sharma is currently officiating as chairman. Oddly, the board didn’t have any member during Agrawal’s tenure. Agrawal was not in favour of having any board members, saying that the day-to-day work was handled by chief engineers. However, both Sharma and Kalra disagree with him. “His (Agrawal’s) tenure was peaceful. Had there been any exigency, he would have known the importance of members,” one of them said candidly.
Quick to sense trouble
Haryana Congress leader and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his close associates either sensed it beforehand or always apprehended that the BJP government could lodge a police case against Hooda in the dubious industrial plots case. When the state unit leaders were busy readying themselves to counter the National Herald case against Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, the name of Hooda also surfaced. Party leaders should be ready as Hooda may also face cases in Haryana, Kuldeep Sharma, ex-speaker of Haryana assembly, had said at a party meeting last week. Those present promised to show solidarity. After chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar ordered registration of FIR against Hooda and others, Sharma was quick to respond. “This is the joint agenda of the INLD and the BJP as they are worried about Hooda’s increasing popularity in the state. While the matter is pending in the court, they have taken this step,” he said, alleging political vendetta.
Tough time for Hoodas
Nothing seems to be going right for Hoodas these days. While former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has been named in an FIR for dubious allotment of prime industrial plots in Panchkula to his near and dear ones, his son Deepender Hooda, Congress MP from Rohtak, is losing his grip on his hometown and constituency in the changed scenario. Though Deepender tried to gain some political mileage from the last-minute cancellation of invitation for the bhumi-pujan ceremony of his “dream project”, the National Cancer Institute, at Jhajjar in his Lok Sabha constituency, he didn’t get the anticipated response. The cancellation went in favour of the BJP which managed to foil their rival’s alleged plan to “hijack” the rally. The MP’s supporters, who had made preparations for a show of strength at the event, were obviously disappointed.
Handling media, Virbhadra way
Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh pampers journalists, but he also does not miss any opportunity to take digs at them sometimes. The CM, while speaking at a function organised by the Press Club Shimla last week, took a jibe at the media saying some journalists write baseless news. Then, he also announced `one crore for construction of a building for the press club. When deputy mayor Tikender Panwar lauded the CM for being “very liberal”, his response was quick: “I run a democratic government”.
Youth Cong workers chicken out
A day after the Himachal Pradesh high court quashed Dharamshala’s inclusion in the Smart City project, some overenthusiastic workers of Youth Congress workers took to the streets, protesting and burning effigies of Shimla mayor Sanjay Chauhan and his deputy Tikender Singh Panwar. By the time effigies were half burnt, someone cautioned the slogan-shouting workers that their action may amount to contempt of court. They tried to put up a brave face for a while by continuing the protest, but soon their bravado vanished. One of the protesters immediately poured a bucket of water on burning effigies to douse the fire, while others cleaned the spot. They all dispersed quickly, leaving the onlookers and police baffled.
Ridge flagpole: Ponywallahs not amused
It was a moment of pride for the residents of Shimla when chief minister Virbhadra Singh unfurled the 100-feet high Tricolour on the historic Ridge maidan. The flagpole has become an added attraction for the city residents and tourists who can be seen clicking ‘selfies’ there. However, pony owners, who earn livelihood by giving rides on the Ridge, seem to be not very happy with the move , as the municipal corporation has restricted horse rides near the spot. The other day, they approached Shimla legislator Suresh Bhardwaj with their problem. The MLA summoned MC health officer Sonam Negi, telling her that the Tricolour is a mark of Independence, but it has “curbed the freedom of pony owners”.
Contributed by Sukhdeep Kaur, Navneet Sharma, Prabhjit Singh, Gurpreet Singh Nibber, Anshu Seth, Rajesh Moudgil, Neeraj Mohan, Gaurav Bisht and Naresh K Thakur