Though local bodies minister Bhagat Chunni Lal (81) had emerged as a powerful political entity after being elected the BJP Legislature Party leader, the saffron party has apparently deployed leaders to help him parry questions from the media and save the BJP from embarrassment due to his ‘outrageous’ replies.
Lal admitted on Monday that he had been reluctant to contest the assembly polls due to the age factor. “I was eventually fielded by the party as surveys suggested that I was a winnable candidate,” he told a gathering on the Jalandhar Municipal Corporation (MC) premises here on Monday.
Ever since the poll results were announced, Lal has struggled while facing the media.
In his first press conference here after being appointed the BJP Legislature Party leader, Lal claimed that the appointment of the deputy chief minister from among BJP MLAs was no issue.
State BJP general secretary Kamal Sharma, who was sitting beside him, was quick to intervene, claiming that the issue was very much alive. Thereafter, a seemingly confused Lal preferred to keep mum on the matter.
In his second press conference here as local bodies minister, Lal caused a flutter by revealing that the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had not taken the BJP into confidence before appointing Sumedh Singh Saini as the Punjab director general of police (DGP).
“I will take up the issue with the Punjab chief minister during the coordination committee meeting,” Lal had said. In a damage-control exercise, district BJP chief Subash Sud and state secretary Ravi Mahendru, who were accompanying the minister, preferred to hastily end the media interaction at the local Circuit House. The media reported the issue as a ‘divide’ between alliance partners, based on Lal’s assertions.
In the press conference at the MC office here on Monday, Lal was flanked by mayor Rakesh Rathour, Lal’s son and Punjab BJP vice-president Mohinder Bhagat and senior deputy mayor Kamaljeet Singh Bhatia.
About the inordinate delay in issuing a notification on granting power to civic bodies to decide change in use of land (CLU) cases, he said the government was considering it. Rathour was quick to inform Lal that deputy CM Sukhbir Badal had already announced its implementation last year. “Sukhbir might have made the announcement after considering all aspects,” Lal told the media without elaborating.
On the defensive
Rathour, Bhatia and Mohinder Bhagat acted as ‘guides’ for Lal as he fielded questions from mediapersons on various topics, including poor condition of roads, bad financial health of the Jalandhar MC, approval to illegal colonies, holding municipal corporation elections, proposed delimitation of the wards, defacement of public properties by ruling combine politicians.
The minister’s stock replies were: “We are trying to expedite things”, “We are considering the matter” and “We will do it soon.” The press conference ended after nearly 20 minutes, much to Lal’s relief.
He also expressed annoyance on the news that the SAD-BJP combine was divided on the DGP appointment.
“The chief minister and senior party leaders rang me up the next morning to inquire about the news,” Lal said, adding that the media reported the facts wrongly. “I never said so. There was no need for Badal to consult me on the DGP’s appointment,” he claimed, even as reporters refuted his allegation and advised the minister to come fully prepared for media interactions. Lal quipped that the scribes should not come so well-prepared, leaving the journalist rolling in the aisles.