Much on expected lines, second-time councillor and third-generation leader from a traditional Akali family of Patiala, Amarinder Singh Bajaj, was unanimously elected as the new mayor of Patiala on Tuesday.
The 34-year-old master of business administration (MBA) carries a clean and honest image in the city and is known for his soft and down-to-earth approach.
Bajaj's name was proposed in the general house meeting convened to elect a new mayor by former mayor Jaspal Pardhan in the presence of the Patiala incharge of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Sikander Singh Maluka, and rural development minister Surjit Singh Rakhra.
Bajaj's elevation to the post is a major setback for the Rakhra-led group; he had lobbied hard to secure the post for his protégé and first-time councillor Jashpal Singh Bittu Chattha.
With the elevation of Bajaj, the Badal family has once again reiterated that 'loyalty' matters the most, since the new mayor happens to be the grandson of late jatehdar Manmohan Singh Bajaj, who was a close associate of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.
Former chairman of the improvement trust of Patiala, Bajaj was the only top-rung leader from Patiala who had stood by Parkash Singh Badal when late jatehdaar Gurcharan Singh Tohra, along with most of the prominent SAD leaders from the city, had parted ways with Badal in 1999.
Bajaj's father Indermohan Bajaj is the reigning district president of SAD (Patiala-Urban).
The chief minister chose Bajaj, ignoring the claims of former mayors Ajit Pal Singh Kohli and Jaspal Pardhan, apart from the prominent Hindu face of Harpal Juneja and third-generation leader from the Tohra dynasty, Harinder Pal Tohra, also setting aside the claims of Rakhra favourite Bittu Chattha.
Sources said Rakhra could not even manage to push his favourite's name among the top two probables considered by the Badals; Bajaj and Pardhan made it to the last leg.
After getting a 'clean-chit' in the infamous Parampreet murder case, Pardhan had strong chances of being reinstatted to the post, but the party decided to steer clear of any possible controversy as the case is still pending with the Punjab and Haryana high court following a plea filed by Parampreet's father seeking a CBI probe into the incident.
Yet again, SAD stuck to its old strategy for a city that has over 60% Hindu population and preferred to give the reigns in the hands of a leader from the urban Sikh community.
The development also means a rough road ahead for Kohli, as he has been looked over for the second time by the party high command.
Five major challenges before Amarinder Bajaj
1. Negotiating the thorny issue of imposing the property tax. Being a Congress stronghold, levying this new tax would not be easy for Bajaj.
2. Sealing commercial establishments running in residential areas. The issue affects the livelihood of thousands and would be the litmus test for the new mayor, as the Punjab and Haryana High Court is directly monitoring the issue.
3. Reeling under an acute shortage of funds, Patiala municipal corporation has even failed to disburse the salaries of its employees. Creating sources of revenue would be an uphill task for the new mayor.
4. The MC house is afflicted by factionalism within the party. Taking decisions with consensus and pacifying all would be a difficult task for Bajaj.
5. His political abilities would be put to real test during the Lok Sabha polls scheduled next year. Patiala city returns Congress candidate by a margin of nearly 70,000 votes.
Patiala city has great expectations from the new mayor who happens to be a master of business administration (MBA). His managerial skills are sure to be tested while dealing with the problems of the city. While interacting with Hindustan Times, Amarinder Bajaj said his priority would be to ensure all basis amenities for the residents. Here is the mayor's take on the civic problems of Patiala
Even an hour of heavy downpour floods Patiala city. Water-logged roads and inundated residential areas put the residents through a lot of discomfiture. Though the civic body claims to have spent nearly 128 crore in the last few years for refurbishing the sewerage system, the picture is entirely different on the ground.
I would try to get a special package from the state government for the low-lying areas as they are the major sufferers. Clearing the two outer nullahs of the city -- badi and choti nadi - would be done this year for their blockages is the main cause for choking the city's sewerage system.
Potable Water Supply
Owing to widespread contamination, only a few households in the city use water supplied by the civic body. The supply lines are over 110 years old. They are in need of immediate repair as sewage gets mixed with supplied water, causing several diseases.
I will try that the canal-based water treatment plant, slated to come up in the Rajindra lake, becomes functional as soon as possible. I will request the chief minister to release funds for this project at the earlist. Efforts will be made to install reverse osmosis (RO) systems in the city.
Even as the number of vehicles has increased manifold in the past fives years, the corporation has failed to handle traffic congestions. Mushrooming of commercial areas without parking lots have added to the miseries of the residents. There is an urgent need to create special parking zones.
It's a problem that does not need money, but the cooperation and management from the police. I promise to ease traffic snarls in the first two months of my tenure. Encroachments on busy roads will not be tolerated.
With no proper mechanism to manage garbage in the city, heaps of filth can be seen lying in all the wards. Despite being a major poll promise during the last civic body polls, the ruling SAD-BJP failed miserably on the issue of solid waste management, even as the problem has been getting worse by the day. The much-hyped door-to-door garbage collection plan and its scientific disposal failed to take off.
A special scheme for the door-to-door collection of garbage will be introduced this very year. A Solid waste management plant will commence at the earliest. The few bottlenecks in the materialisation of the plant will be cleared on priority.
First Citizen of Patiala
Schooling: Yadavindra Public School
College: Government Mohindra College
Interests: Arts and Music
Wife: Manpreet Kaur (housemaker)
Kids: Two daughters
Profession: Cloth merchant - a family business.
Maluka says Pardhan was party's first choice
SAD's Patiala incharge and education minister Sikander Singh Maluka disclosed that former mayor Jaspal Pardhan was the party's first choice, but the latter turned down the offer himself, requesting someone else to be made the mayor.
“Since Pardhan was given a clean chit by the special investigating team (SIT) in the murder case, he was party's first choice, but he refused as the case is still pending and he does not want to trouble the party any further,” said Maluka, while addressing party councillors at the meeting convened to elect the new mayor.
Maluka also lauded the six-month tenure of Pardhan as the mayor and said the SAD leader would be given his dues once he comes clean.
Pardhan, while proposing the name of the new mayor said he requested the party high command not to give him another chance before he cleared his name in the murder case in which, he claimed, he was framed as part of a 'conspiracy'.
Congress flays the election process
Though Congress councillors welcomed Amarinder Bajaj as the new mayor, they criticised the election process.
The leader of opposition in the civic body, Sanjeev Bittu, said the standard procedure involved in electing a new mayor was given a pass completely.
"As per procedure, the divisional commissioner was to chair the meeting. But Maluka chaired the meeting and that too without even taking permission from the commissioner," Bittu said.
He also flayed the civic body administration for not making proper seating arrangements for the councillors.