Bittu’s self-styled arrest
Jail terms are special for politicians. Ask Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal about the political dividends his jail stints have paid. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently termed Badal as India’s Nelson Mandela. When the Bathinda police refused to take Ludhiana MP Ravneet Singh Bittu into custody in a case registered against him during a protest, he went to the court complex to surrender. Once arrested, the MP was quick to announce it himself by sending a press statement. It read: “Bittu arrested, sent to judicial custody by Bathinda court.” Not only this, the arrest was also the MP’s show of strength. Bittu’s statement had names of three Congress MLAs from Ludhiana and over two dozen other party leaders, and claimed that he was accompanied by “thousands of supporters”. “Before going behind bars, the MP announced to keep fighting for the rights of farmers,” it added. Some high-profile visits to the jail kept Bittu in the news. The MP’s protest did not make headlines, his self-styled arrest surely did.
Media managers in firefighting mode
These are busy times for media managers of Punjab politicians. With the SAD-BJP government lurching from one crisis to another in the past two weeks, spin doctors of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Badal were in a perpetual firefighting mode, issuing a rash of statements, mostly repetitive, and advertisements projecting the government as “the most farmer-friendly” to checkmate the farmers’ agitation. But the breather was short-lived as it soon found itself overwhelmed by the Sirsa dera and desecration flare-ups. Faced with Sikh wrath, the Badals promptly did what they do in such situations — embracing a “more-Panthic-than-thou” stance and showing up at the Golden Temple as humble devotees. To make the political hay as Punjab was on the boil, state Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa took charge of his own publicity campaign, making frantic calls to journalists to cover his whirlwind tour of the troubled spots in Faridkot. Not to be left behind, Captain Amarinder Singh was the last in a row of opposition politicians to visit the families of two Sikhs killed in police firing. This time, however, his usually hyperactive media advisers were found missing in action and failed to ensure a good Sunday for the ‘Maharaja’.
In the corridors of power, especially in the Civil Secretariat, a middle-aged Sardarji is addressed affectionately as ‘Mamu or Mama Ji’ (maternal uncle) even by key civil servants who are otherwise infamous for their don’t-give-a-damn attitude. ‘Mamu’ roams around in the secretariat in an extraordinarily down-to-earth manner, no security guards or any ‘chamcha’ in tow. He has to plead for a pass to enter the secretariat. Not an ordinary person, Inder Singh is the maternal uncle of deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and the brother-in-law of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. The CM has kept his in-laws at an arm’s length. But Sukhbir is (in)different to examples his father sets. Not only journalists, some wily officers also attempt to draw out Inder Singh by comparing his plight with that of Bikram Singh Majithia, Sukhbir’s powerful brother-in-law. But simple and straight, ‘Mamu’ is a tough nut to crack. He keeps quiet and flashes a smile with folded hands. After all, as they say, silence is golden.
Rival Joshi calls on ailing Sidhu
Undergoing treatment for acute deep vein thrombosis at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, BJP leader and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu had a steady flow of visitors. But none generated more interest in the political circles back home than the visit of his party colleague and Punjab minister Anil Joshi. As soon as pictures of the minister’s visit were flashed on social media, there were quick responses. While some appreciated Joshi for his gesture, others were sharp in their reactions, reminding the minister of the time he had opposed the former Amritsar MP on the political front. The two leaders had been close to each other in the past, but then fell out.
Kejri in Punjab fray?
Political gossip is heating up in the corridors of power in Punjab much earlier than expected. Though there is more than a year to go for the assembly polls, the question doing the rounds is: who will be the chief ministerial candidate of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)? While the names of Bhagwant Mann and Sucha Singh Chhotepur have already been discussed and rejected by gossip-mongers, the latest name being circulated is that of party supremo Arvind Kejriwal. The talk is that Kejriwal will leave Delhi in the “able hands” of Manish Sisodia and come to conquer Punjab.
Politician with ready wit
It would not be fair to discuss politicians with ready wit and not mention Congress leader Gurcharan Singh Dadahur. Known for his remarks made in a lighter vein, the former Sangrur MP, despite having kept a low profile in recent years, doesn’t fail to take a jibe or two at the current crop of leaders. Dadahur displayed his talent at a function in Ludhiana the other day where he was a special invitee along with cabinet minister Sharanjit Singh Dhillon. Having made Dadahur comfortable, the host went to receive Dhillon and brought him to meet the former. After exchanging pleasantries, Dhillon left for refreshments and Dadahur shared the meeting details with a reporter present on the occasion. “Sama kina badal gaya hei… jadd Dhillon saab MP bane tan mainu jhuk ke Sat Sri Akal bulande si… hun Dhillon saab ne MLA ban ke cabinet rank leya tan mainu thaapi de gaye (Times have changed so much. When Dhillon was MP, he used to bow and greet me and now that he is MLA and a cabinet minister he gave me a pat on my back),” remarked Dadahur, who is much older than Dhillon.
Wary of public fury
Politicians have always been wary of public fury over electricity supply and bills in Haryana, rolling back tariffs and going slow on disconnection of defaulters whenever there is an outcry. When the issue of power bill default came up in the meeting of deputy commissioners (DCs) and superintendents of police (SPs) on Friday, chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar asked them to take strict action. “If they don’t pay their bills, disconnect their meters,” he told the officers. When a DC drew attention towards villages having a large number of defaulters and illegal connections, one of the CM’s top aides advised restraint. “DC, SP saath jaayen aur unko nivedan kare ki kundi chhorein aur bill dein (The DCs and SPs should go together and request them to give up illegal connections and pay their bills),” he said. While some of those present felt that the aide made the remark in jest, one can’t be sure, given successive governments’ experience in dealing with the tricky issue of power dues recovery in rural areas.
Catching up with Swachh Bharat
After being a laggard in implementing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet programme, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the BJP government in Haryana appears to be trying to catch up. When chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar was reviewing the progress of different programmes and schemes in the DC-SP meeting the other day, a senior IAS officer gave information on the strategies being adopted to meet the goal of making the state open defecation-free, saying that teams led by additional deputy commissioners and others were crisscrossing the state and taking photos of those relieving themselves in the open to dissuade them. Another strategy discussed was to get youngsters to make noise or blow whistle whenever they see anyone indulging in open defecation. While the CM was not too keen on the shoot-with-the-camera strategy, he and others present did not seem to mind the noisemaking bit.
Jibe on Modi goes viral
It was a one-liner, but got captured on camera and went viral, embarrassing the ruling BJP in Haryana. When minister Krishan Kumar Bedi, while cleaning a street as part of the Swachh Bharat campaign, muttered in a lighter vein that he wondered what all chores Prime Minister Narendra Modi would make them do (Pata nahin Modi kay kay kara ke maanega), the cameras were on. “I hope you have not recorded it,” he added with a grin, requesting them not to run it. But the TV crews on the job and the brief clip not just became viral on the social media, but also made it to television channels, leaving the party leaders red-faced.
Birender speaks his mind
Union rural development minister Birender Singh, a Jat leader from Haryana, does not seem to be happy with the working of chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar. The minister has been critical of the functioning of the state government on his visits to the state. When he went to his home district, Jind, recently, Singh criticised the chief minister for neglecting the area, asking him to induct one officer on special duty in his team to monitor development works in the district. Of course, his words did not have any impact on Khattar, who said that steps were being taken for inclusive development. At a rally in Jind in April, too, the minister had, in the presence of the CM, panned the political leadership’s failure to rein in the bureaucracy, besides questioning the practice of concentration of power in the hands of the CM alone.
Khattar’s weaving skills
Chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar showed his weaving skill in Karnal on Saturday. In his home constituency to inaugurate a ‘khadi gramodyog’ unit, he was invited to pose with a charka (spinning wheel). Usually, such occasions are normally customary, with politicians and other dignitaries posing with charkha and a cotton ball. Khattar, a one-time Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak, though shy at first, took everyone present by surprise with his weaving skills.
Bali boycotts health meeting
Himachal Pradesh transport minister GS Bali, who was behind the shifting of Dr Rajendra Prasad Medical College (RPGMC) from Dharamshala to Tanda in his assembly segment and then nurturing the institution, is now being seemingly sidelined by the college authorities. Critical of the functioning of the college management, the flamboyant leader was again ignored in a meeting of the institution’s Rogi Kalyan Samiti, as nobody provided him the copy of the agenda till the last minute. A fuming Bali boycotted the meeting with seven other members leaving the venue behind him in front of health minister Kaul Singh Thakur, who was presiding over the meeting. Bali also complained to the health minister that the authorities were not taking the committee meeting seriously.
Difficult times for Kapoor
Former Himachal Pradesh minister Kishan Kapoor has been the undisputed leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Dharamshala assembly segment for over two decades. Hailing from the Gaddi tribe of Kangra valley, Kapoor is now facing a challenge not from any other leaders, but the people of his own community. He chose his close confidante Ramesh Atwal as the party’s Dharamshala block president the other day, but the decision was rejected by a rival group. The group led by his one-time protégé and Dharamshala municipal council vice-president Onkar Singh Nehria announced a separate block BJP executive and president.
Contributed by Sukhdeep Kaur, Pawan Sharma, Aseem Bassi, Chitleen Sethi, Anshu Seth, Navneet Sharma, Rajesh Moudgil, Neeraj Mohan, Vishal Joshi and Naresh K Thakur