Mangal Singh Sandhu, who officiated as director of agriculture for about three years and was arrested on the allegations of his involvement in a pesticide scam when the department messed up its response to whitefly attack on the cotton crop in October last year, is back after cooling his heels in jail for more than two months. To make sure that all his friends and acquaintances know that he is back, he is posting his pictures from his village home at Pakki Tibbi in Lambi assembly constituency. A well-dressed, suited-booted Sandhu stands out in these shots, apparently trying to show as if nothing has happened and all is well. Before his arrest, Sandhu used to claim that he is clean and has done no wrong. He recalls the blessings of his parents, being in the house built by them.
Don’t ask Tota Singh
Post the fiasco about handling whitefly pest attack on the cotton crop and the allegations against his department, Punjab agriculture minister Jathedar Tota Singh seems have gone incommunicado, refusing to comment on any query from the media, trying to play safe, and avoid landing in any controversy. It seems he has been told to stay mum by the party, after the opposition Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) named Tota Singh in the pesticide scam and sought his resignation. “I don’t know anything, you better ask Suresh Kumar-ji (additional chief secretary in charge of the agriculture department),” is the fixed reply he gives, to any question asked by the media.
Games leaders play
With Punjab in the pre-election mood, legislators of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) are trying to woo the electorate in both rural and urban areas, and sports activities seem to have caught the fancy of those in Ludhiana. After Manpreet Singh Ayali inaugurated a multi-purpose playground at Gujjarwal village, another MLA, Darshan Singh Shivalik, showed interest in rural games held recently at Jharkar. But what became the talk of the event was the MLA’s ride in an open jeep across the village. Reacting to it and referring to the non-disbursed grant, a young player said: “Pehle announce kitta hoya rupaya ta de deyo, aah VIP wali feeling baad wichh lai leyo (Deliver the promised money first, take delight in being a VIP later).”
The Manohar Lal Khattar government in Haryana is in a fix over the entitlement of Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda to subsidised kerosene. Even though the government has scanned the lists of beneficiaries in the below poverty line (BPL) category effectively, deleting the names of a large number of fake recipients, a request from the dera for subsidised kerosene for its community kitchen for the poor has put the government in a quandary. The department turned down the request initially, citing the public distribution system norms, but food and supplies minister Karan Dev Kamboj appears to be having second thoughts now, suggests the buzz in the department. He has asked the department to re-examine the request. The government, it appears, has reasons to have a soft corner for the dera, which had backed the ruling party in the assembly polls.
Despite his growing age, Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh has his sense of humour intact. A day before the CM’s visit to Shahpur constituency in Kangra district, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Sarveen Chaudhary, who represents the assembly segment, came out all guns blazing against the government, claiming that all development works to be inaugurated by Virbhadra were either on her priority list or had been funded by the Centre. She also accused the government of not inviting her to the inauguration functions. Asked for his reaction to the local MLA’s grievances, Virbhadra replied: “It is not my marriage taking place that I should invite her (Sarveen).” All those present had a hearty laugh.
Fit for UN
The division of Kangra into smaller districts has always remained a contentious issue, splitting leaders of both the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP. Kangra MP Shanta Kumar was among those who opposed the “division move” of the previous BJP government led by his colleague Prem Kumar Dhumal. The other day, Shanta again raked up the issue, saying that instead of dividing the districts, there was a need for reorganisation. At this, chief minister Virbhadra Singh responded by offering a “humble advice” to the saffron party leader. “Shanta fits better in the UNO (United Nations Organisation). There, he can mediate for altering the boundaries of nations,” the CM said.
Getting his ministerial colleagues to attend office has been a priority for Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh. The CM, who has been trying hard to make them spend more time at the state civil secretariat, suggested to the ministers recently to be in office on at least first two days of the week. But his suggestion appears to have gone unheeded. The ministers continue to spend more time touring their assembly segments and the state. “I will force them to sit in office now,” an agitated Virbhadra is said to have remarked.
Shimla superintendent of police DW Negi, regarded as chief minister Virbhadra Singh’s “blue-eyed boy”, is on an economy drive these days. Negi, who remained in charge of the chief minister’s security before his posting as district police chief, has ordered removal of telephones from the offices of additional superintendents of police and deputy superintendents of police. He has got a sound system installed in their rooms instead, to communicate with them. What’s more, he has withdrawn all the orderlies deputed with his subordinates, leaving them fuming.
During the chief minister’s recent visit to Shahpur, Himachal Pradesh Forest Corporation vice-chairman Kewal Singh Pathania, who belongs to the assembly segment, had a long list of demands. Besides seeking several development projects, he requested chief minister Virbhadra Singh to open an SDM’s (subdivisional magistrate’s) office at Shahpur. But the CM, who does not decline his requests usually, was not in a mood to grant this wish. “Offices are not roses that you give everyone. I will consider your demand sympathetically,” said the CM, leaving his close lieutenant embarrassed in front of his supporters, who had gathered from far-off villages.
‘Atom bomb’ MLA
Known for his proximity to chief minister Virbhadra Singh, Jawalamukhi’s Congress MLA Sanjay Rattan has brought many big projects to his constituency during the present regime. Every time the CM goes to Kangra, he never forgets to visit Jawalamukhi. During his winter sojourn, Virbhadra spent one full day at the town. In a public meeting, Rattan again handed over his list of demands to the CM. Addressing the people, Virbhadra said: “Your MLA is nothing less than an atom bomb. Every time, he thrusts in his list of demands. Before I am able to say anything, he gets them sanctioned.”
National Conference leader Dr Farooq Abdullah and his son, Omar Abdullah, are clearly not on the same page about dealing with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The other day, Farooq was the first NC leader to say that his party can join hands with the BJP to form the Jammu and Kashmir government to end the political stalemate in the state. Omar, who has a good equation with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, was quick to reject his father’s suggestion. Subsequently, Farooq also claimed that he had been misquoted. The veteran leader has been quite active of late, in the BJP’s stronghold of Jammu especially. Farooq, according to some observers, sees one more chance of heading the government, but it may not suit Omar’s political interests. The father and son had the same tussle in 2008 when Omar became the CM. Initially, Farooq was tipped to head the government, but had to yield to Omar after intervention from the family and higher-ups in the Congress, NC ally at that time.
Contributed by Gurpreet Nibber, Anshu Seth, Rajesh Moudgil, Naresh K Thakur, Gaurav Bisht and Tarun Upadhyay