Great Political Circus of 2015: The show will go on

  • HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Dec 30, 2015 14:00 IST
(Illustration by Daljeet Kaur Sandhu)

As the year packs up to leave, Hindustan Times takes a look back at the Great Political Circus that played out in the region in 2015, profiling dramatis personae involved in major controversies who made headlines and gazing into the crystal ball to see what could unfold for them in 2016.


Confidant cop shunted out

(Illustration by-Daljeet Kaur Sandhu)

Controversy – Two Sikh activists killed in police firing during a protest against desecration of Guru Granth Sahib, pushing Badals on the back foot like never before. Coupled with a botched-up investigation into incidents of sacrilege, the deaths had the Akali leaders scurry for cover, literally. As public anger grew, Akali leaders had to face protests and abuse at public functions.


Sumedh Singh Saini – Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal shunted out his confidant from the post of director general of police (DGP) to mollify hardliners. Saini had enjoyed complete support of Sukhbir despite being hated by radicals for his role during militancy in Punjab.

IMPACT – As part of damage control, the Badal government also ordered a CBI probe into incidents of sacrilege and showered sops to try and recover lost ground. New DGP Suresh Arora quietly took over and put majority of Sikh hardliners in jail. And, the protests petered out.

Return of the radicals

Controversy – After being on the fringes of Punjab politics for years, 2015 was the comeback year of Sikh radicals – well almost. Akal Takht’s pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh triggered protests by hardliners and desecration of Guru Granth Sahib at several places fuelled the fury of the Sikh populace. The Akal Takht had to revoke the pardon.


Sikh hardliners – Led by SAD (Amritsar) chief Simrajit Singh Mann, they made the most of the situation. At “Sarbat Khalsa” (congregation of the Sikh faithful) of one lakh Sikhs, they “appointed” convicted militant Jagtar Singh Hawara as Akal Takht “jathedar” and revived demand for separate Sikh state.

IMPACT – Mann has resurrected himself, at least for now, in public life even though the Akalis, on the back foot over pardon, hit out at hardliners branding them “anti-national”. The Akalis also accused the Congress of being “organizer” of the congregation.

Capt’s coup d’état

(Illustration by Daljeet Kaur Sandhu)

Controversy – Congress deputy leader in Lok Sabha Capt Amarinder Singh and former Punjab Congress chief Partap Bajwa were engaged in a battle of rallies. Amarinder began the year by defying the party leadership, giving the Parliament sessions a miss, and then questioned the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. Bajwa, on his part, said that Amarinder was aligning with BJP for the 2017 state polls.


Capt Amarinder Singh – A former CM, he was resurrected in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections where he defeated BJP’s Arun Jaitley in Amritsar. He then made a pitch for the state chief ’s post.

Partap Singh Bajwa – Unable to take along all factions, Bajwa, defeated by BJP’s Vinod Khanna in Gurdaspur LS constituency, could not control the party.

IMPACT – To bring the bickering to an end, Rahul Gandhi forced the two to put up a show of unity before replacing Bajwa with Amarinder as the state unit chief.

The Swiss conundrum

Controversy – Just when Capt Amarinder Singh was to be brought back at the helm of Punjab Congress affairs, news that Indian government had sought help of Swiss authorities to probe bank accounts of his wife Preneet Kaur and their son, Raninder Singh, made headlines. It gave ammunition to SAD-BJP alliance which is battling a credibility crisis.


Preneet Kaur – A former minister of state for external affairs, she is currently MLA from Patiala. The family rebutted the charge, questioning the timing of the reports.

Arun Jaitley – His ministry is directly looking into foreign accounts and black money cases of India’s who’s who. Amarinder blamed him for unleashing political vendetta.

IMPACT – Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi made Amarinder the PPCC chief within a few days. Now, SAD and BJP have “Swiss accounts” to target Amarinder and he can blame it on vendetta till there is no adverse headway in the case.

The wilting Kamal

(Illustration by Daljeet Kaur Sandhu)

Controversy – Punjab BJP president Kamal Sharma was in the eye of the storm when his former assistant was booked in August for accepting bribe in a drug smuggling case. A huge embarrassment for Sharma, it provided ammunition to his detractors in the party. A section of BJP wanted Sharma, who completed three years as the state unit chief in November, to be divested of the top party post. And, they have tried hard, going to journalists with documents against him.


Kamal Sharma – Before becoming the state unit chief, Sharma was advisor to chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. He was under pressure, but did not lose his cool and then luck favoured him. When the desecreation row erupted, the demand for his removal got buried in the din.

IMPACT – BJP leaders had started speaking on drug menace and Akalis’ involvement in trade, but the allegations against the state unit chief ’s assistant were not just embarrassing they also silenced them.

AAP on a high

Controversy – The aftershocks of rebellion in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) at Delhi were felt in Punjab. After the party shunted out Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, it saw an open revolt by two of its four MPs and some other leaders in the state. Then, an audio clip of Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann criticizing the party leadership went viral on social media. A video, #DrunkBhagwantMann, shot at the bhog ceremony of two Sikhs killed in police firing during a protest against sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib also left AAP with more blushes.


Dharamvira Gandhi & Harinder Khalsa– Surprise winners from Patiala and Fatehgarh Sahib, respectively, the two MPs slammed AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal and were suspended from the party.

Bhagwant Mann – A comedian-turnedpolitician, he had won Sangrur LS seat with a record margin. Mann had started well, but got embroiled in controversies.

IMPACT – With audio and video clips discrediting Mann revolt, the AAP is hunting for a credible face in Punjab.

Cotton weighs heavy

Controversy – Whitefly attack, coupled with spurious pesticides, destroyed cotton over large swathes in Punjab. As farmers blocked roads and rail tracks, agriculture minister Tota Singh came under cloud for the pesticide muddle. Agriculture director Mangal Singh Sandhu, two department officials and dealers were arrested in the fake pesticides scam.


Mangal Singh Sandhu – A departmental officer, he belongs to Pakki village in Badal’s Lambi assembly constitutency and considered close to Akali leader Dyal Singh Kolianwali. When removed, he became defiant.

Nirankar Singh & Satwant Singh – The two joint directors, agriculture, were named in FIR registered in the pesticide scam. They are “absconding”.

IMPACT – Crop failure was a big blow for farmers already working under constraints like debt and falling productivity and fake pesticides dented the image of the Badal government. All eyes are on the probe now.


(Illustration by Daljeet Kaur Sandhu)

Controversy – Akalis had a tough time. NRI affairs minister Tota ‘ Singh, who was leading a delegation, saw a shoe being hurled at him by protestors in New York in July. The minister was there to woo NRIs in view of the 2017 assembly polls in Punjab. In November, rural development minister Sikandar Singh Maluka was “pushed” – some say, “slapped” - by an old man , in a village in Bathinda. At several places, SAD leaders were faced attacked and forced to leave public functions by people angry over desecration of holy book.


Tota Singh – A ‘taksali Akali’, he is a senior leader. He was sent to the US and Canada to woo the Punjabi diaspora, but could not gauge the mood.

Sikander Singh Maluka – A controversial Akali minister, he continuously tries to promote his family members.

IMPACT – Akalis are facing strong anti-incumbency after nine years in power. Incidents such shoe hurling, slapping, pushing and angry protests only reflect public mood.

Bumpy ride for Badals

Controversy – On April 29, a teenage girl aboard a bus of Orbit Aviation, owned by deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, was allegedly molested in the presence of her mother in Moga. They were then thrown off the bus. The girl died and her mother sustained injuries. While the incident triggered nationwide outrage, the Badals were in denial mode initially about the bus ownership. The girl’s family refused to cremate her. Rs 20 lakh compensation from the company and promise of government job broke the logjam. Buses owned by some other affluent SAD politicians also got involved in fatal accidents, giving ammunition to the opposition parties.


Badals – Taken aback by public outrage, they gave contradictory statements. While Union minister Harsimrat Badal said she did not know about the bus, CM Parkash Singh Badal said the bus belonged to the family. Sukhbir, fearing backlash, suspended bus operations for some days.

IMPACT – The incident brought the spotlight back on their burgeoning business empire. The Badal family has interests in transport, hospitality and media, despite charges of conflict of interest.


Khattar’s saffron blues

(Illustration by Daljeet Kaur Sandhu)

Controversy – Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar created a controversy in October when he said that Muslims can continue to live in the country but will have to give up eating beef. Khattar drew widespread criticism and the BJP also distanced itself. While the CM contended this his remarks have been misconstrued, the criticism spoiled the one year celebrations of the first-ever BJP government in the state.


Manohar Lal Khattar – A pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), he is a first-time MLA from Karnal and was handpicked for the top job in Haryana

IMPACT – Khattar was seen as pushing the RSS agenda and further stoked the intolerance debate. Though the controversy has seemingly dented his image, his peers in the RSS probably would have patted him for his outspokenness.

Loose cannon

Controversy – The anti-Jat reservation stand taken by BJP MP Rajkumar Saini, who comes from backward class, has the Jat community up in arms. His continuous diatribe, statements on creating a backward class brigade to counter Jats and his recent vitriolic remarks against the community at a public forum have threatened to create hostilities in the state. Proponents of Jat reservation like Hawa Singh Sangwan have opposed Saini tooth and nail.


Rajkumar Saini – The Kurukshetra MP has taken on the dominant Jat community defying the party high command that counseled him to exercise restraint.

IMPACT – By attacking Jats, Saini has got support from anti-Jat forces in the state and consolidated his position politically. He has also outsmarted leaders like HJC chief Kuldeep Bishnoi, who were counting on non-Jat communities for support, for the time being.

BJP’s enfant terrible stays in firing line

(Illustration by Daljeet Kaur Sandhu)

Controversy –Haryana’s fire-breathing health minister Anil Vij just cannot keep quiet. He has something to say, usually nasty things, on everyone, from actor Parineeti Chopra and boxer Vijender Singh to politicians Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. Vij does not miss any opportunity to take potshots at his colleagues, including the CM, and state officers, ranting and retreating at times. The minister even told a lady IPS officer to “get out” of a grievance committee meeting after a spat. Vij, who has accused the state CID of spying on him usually speaks or tweets out of turn in disregard of protocol or the concept of collective responsibility.


Anil Vij - A five-time MLA from Ambala cantonment, he enjoys a reputation for uncompromising honesty. He is also unmarried and has not taken official accommodation.

IMPACT – Vij has often embarrassed his government and party. And, his colleagues and bureaucrats are now wary of him.

Himachal Pradesh

Upsetting the apple cart

(Illustration by Daljeet Kaur Sandhu)

HP chief minister Virbhadra Singh faced the most embarrassing moment of his long political career when officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided his residence in September even as he was leaving for his daughter Meenakshi Singh’s wedding ceremony. The agency had registered a disproportionate assets case against Virbhadra and his family for allegedly showing unaccounted money as apple orchard income.


Virbhadra Singh – The five-time CM is the tallest leader in the state with a political career spanning five decades. He has blamed the BJP for everything.

Prem Kumar Dhumal – A senior BJP leader, the former CM has been blamed by Virbhadra for the cases and raids. The Congress leader had initiated cases against Dhumal and his kin.

IMPACT – The rivalry between Virbhadra and Dhumal has turned murkier. The raids made the CM vulnerable politically and his rivals within the Congress have got emboldened.

Jammu and Kashmir

Trouble in paradise

(Nitin Kanotra/HT File Photo)

Controversy – Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, in his Budget speech, announced setting up of AIIMS in J&K, triggering claims from both regions. Minister of state Jitendra Singh said the institute would be set up in Jammu, whereas Peoples Democratic Party said it would be in Kashmir. The Congress also jumped in to play politics. Claims and counter-claims led to protests.


J&K CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed – He pushed the claim of Kashmir. “It will take people of Jammu less time to reach there than going elsewhere for treatment,” he said. His remarks annoyed people of Jammu.

Deputy CM Nirmal Singh – A senior BJP leader, the deputy CM did press Jammu’s claim, but failed to satisfy the protestors. He was targeted for not “safeguarding” interests of the region.

Impact – Bandhs, contradictory claims and political games had the potential of undoing the BJP-PDP alliance’s promise of bridging the gap between Jammu and Kashmir. The two sides managed to save face by announcing AIIMS in both areas.

Not to be cowed down

(Arun Sharma/HT File Photo)

Controversy – A day before the J&K assembly was to have a discussion in October on beef ban to repeal the law that prohibits slaughter of bovines and sale of beef in the state, MLA Engineer Rashid hosted a ‘beef party’ at the MLA hostel. The party, he said, was held to defy those seeking ban on beef. Rashid was attacked by some BJP legislators in the state assembly. A few days later, he was attacked by Hindu Sena activisists who blackened his face with ink in Delhi.


Engineer Rashid: The engineer-turnedpolitician is an Independent MLA from Langate. A maverick, Rashid, first elected to the state assembly in 2008, has been protesting against beef ban, human rights violation etc. On World Human Rights Day, he led a protest march in which a cow, horse, dog and goat were paraded with placards such as “I am Sangh Parivar’s Cow, I am secure than Kashmiris”.

Impact – The incidents not only brought the controversial MLA into limelight, but were also a huge embarrassment for the Mufti government.

(Contributed by Pawan Sharma, Sukhdeep Kaur, Chitleen K Sethi, Gurpreet Singh Nibber, Prabhjit Singh, Hitender Rao, Rajesh Moudgil, Toufiq Rashid and Gaurav Bisht. Design and illustrations by Daljeet Kaur Sandhu)

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