If there was any doubt about who calls the shots in Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal settled it on Saturday by bringing those in the firing line who he said were trying to pull the CM's rug from under his feet.
Coming on a public stage, his close-range sarcasm left Bikram Singh Majithia, his son's brother-in-law and NRI affairs minister, without a defence or escape during Pravasi Punjabi Sammelan here.
Standing behind Badal on the dais, Majithia was taken by surprise when the chief minister looked back at him and gave him a public dressing down. "Tusi kade jail katti hai (Have you ever been to jail)? Tuhanu ta pakki pakaai mili hai (you have got minister's post on a platter). Hun tusi mere te vee kabja karan nu firde ho (now you are looking to grab my chair, too)," he told him point blank. Even as the entire gathering burst into laughter, Majithia tried to hide his embarrassed smile.
Over the past two days of the expatriate-community meet, overseas delegates were suggesting him directly or indirectly to retire, and Badal wasn't pleased about it. "Mai sattarah saal jail katti hai (I was jailed for seven years). Kohar sahib te inha de parivar ne vee jail katti (transport minister Ajit Singh Kohar and his family have also been into prison).
Bhundar sahib te Dhindsa sahib ne vee mehnat kiti ((Shiromani Akali Dal general secretary Balwinder Singh) Bhundar and (member of parliament Sukhdev Singh) Dhindsa also worked hard). Ainve khush na hoyi jao ke function bara kaamyaab ho gaya (Don't be so glad unnecessarily that the function has gone off well). Majithia Sahib, mehnat karo (Mr Majithia, work hard). Kalle NRIs ne nai sarakar banani, hethle lokan da vee dhayan rakhan pau (NRIs alone won't elect the next government; we'll have to look after common people as well)," Badal's barbs were unending.
His message was clear: respect elder statesmen in the party. Badal advised Majithia not to repeat the mistake of hosting the NRI meet in a hotel (the venue was crammed). "Kindly, arrange a 10-acre open space so that the participants can be accommodated properly," he quipped.
Projecting himself as main power centre, Badal asked the NRIs to contact him directly if they were keen on investing in the state. "There is no need to go via the single-window system," he said. "You come to me with proposals. I will ensure speedy clearance personally. Treat me as single window."
He reminded Majithia to deliver on the promise made to the NRIs or he wouldn't be able to face them in the next year's conference. "I am concerned about what will happen next year," he said.
Getting serious, he said he would honour every commitment made to the expatriates at the meet. He didn't spare even his son, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, for his leaving the venue without waiting for his father to conclude his remarks.
Sukhbir had said earlier that development alone was the factor that could keep the SAD in power. In his absence, Badal, a veteran of politics, corrected him. "Development isn't the only factor," said the CM. "The confidence of all castes and religions also matters. They have to trust our secular credentials. We don't celebrate all important religious festivals for nothing."
Sukhbir had painted a rosy picture of Punjab but Badal preferred to accept that most of its 141 cities and towns were yet to get 100% sewerage and potable water, proper roads, and streetlights. Untreated civic and industrial waste being released into canals was contaminating even the groundwater, he said, quick to agree that for the development of the state, the credit should also go the Central grants.