Bhattal packs a punch
Poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who has been handpicked by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for the 2017 assembly elections in Punjab, recently called on former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal. The objective of Kishor’s visit, the grapevine has it, was to take feedback and understand the game plan of Bhattal who often springs surprises by backing and then opposing Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh. Bhattal apparently told the Congress’ “chief coach” – as he is referred to by the party crowd in private – in her characteristically blunt style that Punjab is not Bihar.
The electoral arithmetic of Punjab, she told him, is more complex than that of Bihar. Bhattal then delivered the final punch, cautioning him that an adverse outcome in Punjab will put the Congress, which is already gasping for breath, and his career in jeopardy.
Cong’s fan moment
Not very long ago former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal had called Captain Amarinder Singh a “spoiled brat”. She is now all praises for him. But Amarinder’s one-time diehard “fan” Sunil Jakhar had to be coaxed by the Punjab Congress chief’s loyalists till the last hour to make an appearance at the Baisakhi rally at Talwandi Sabo lest his absence made more news than their fervent attempt to pull crowds. Congress Legislature Party leader Charanjit Channi has found a “fan” in Congress general secretary Shakeel Ahmad after Partap Bajwa is out of the state scene. So much so, at one point Channi could have well landed on party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s lap during the latter’s interaction with partymen recently as Ahmad kept pushing him next to Rahul. Though literally speaking, Manpreet Badal now towers over other leaders at party meetings, he has ambitious young turks such as Amrinder Singh Raja Warring and Ravneet Bittu fanning trouble for him. No wonder Rahul does not tire of saying “Only Congress can defeat Congress”.
Sampla caught on wrong foot
Union minister of state for social justice and empowerment Vijay Sampla, who has been appointed Punjab BJP chief, hosted a dinner for journalists the other day. Asked to comment on the state unit of the party, he said: “Kamal hee peya hai” (things are very chaotic). While Sampla had a smirk on his face, a journalist instantly pointed out that his predecessor is Kamal Sharma and the party symbol is kamal ka phool (lotus), asking the new state unit chief to elaborate. All those present burst into laughter, whereas Sampla did not seem to have an answer. He remained dismissive on most issues related to his party.
‘Vote’ of thanks for Capt
Going by the negative publicity, it is too early to say if it will be a vote-spinner. But ‘Coffee with Captain’ at Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh’s hometown, Patiala, has earned him “vote” of thanks from students of the Gyan Sagar Medical College who had requested Captain to intervene in the standoff between management and teachers over non-payment of dues, which was affecting their classes and studies. Amarinder had assured to intervene and spoke to the management. The students have posted a thank-you letter to Amarinder on ‘Punjab da Captain’ Facebook page. But the government claims the impasse was resolved on directions of secretary, medical education, to institute management to pay dues of faculty and resume classes.
The silent Kairon
Punjab food and civil supplies minister Adaish Partap Singh Kairon isn’t the most vocal member of the state council of ministers. But his silence at a time when the state was facing a crisis due to delay in release of cash credit limit for procurement of wheat has irked everyone in the government, including officers of the department. The over-cautious minister was not keen to share much information, but press notes issued by the public relations department on daily status report on procurement and payment were also viewed with suspicion. Perhaps, there was a feeling that any info that goes to newspapers for printing is against the minister.
‘Kacche’ employees’ woes
About 200 representatives of contractual teachers from across the state converged on Punjab Bhawan on Sunday for talks with chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for regularisation of their jobs. As cops on duty asked them to get off the road to ‘kuccha’ (road side), one of the delegates quipped: “We are already ‘kacche’ (temporary) employees”. ‘Kuccha’ in Punjabi means roadside as well as temporary or contractual. “Kacche pehla hi kacche je ho ke baahar aa rahe ne (We temporary employees are already coming out disappointed after the talks),” remarked another contractual employee. And, they brought smiles on the faces of the cops as well.
‘Happening Haryana’ falls flat
Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda trumpeted his “No. 1 Haryana” slogan for years, spending huge amount of public money, during his rule. The present BJP government has picked up the “Happening Haryana” tag line. But, alas, the creativity shown in catchphrases hasn’t rubbed off on their programmes. When the centre recently asked all states to identify award-winning initiatives of other states they would like to replicate, not a single scheme from Haryana was mentioned by any of the 23 states that have responded so far. Maharashtra is on top with many states wanting to replicate its schemes for crop pest surveillance, and vocational training and mainstreaming tribal youth, followed by Madhya Pradesh with ‘Hum Chhuyenge Aasman’ and LADO for sports promotion and eradicating child marriages, respectively. Haryana has selected five initiatives of Gujarat, MP, Maharashtra, Bihar and Chhattisgarh for clean and green energy, eradicating child marriages, mother-child healthcare, tackling malnutrition and crop pest surveillance. In comparison, the Punjab government, whose programme for rationalisation of affidavits for reforming public service delivery system has found favour with four states, wants to replicate the canal top solar power plant initiative of Gujarat.
Union women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi is known for her plain-speak. A group of officials from Haryana got a taste of it at a conference held in New Delhi last week to launch the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign in 61 more districts of the country. A district-level official from the state recalled how he had tried to bring about social change by getting a bride-to-be trot on horseback to break a traditionally male convention and there was strong reaction from the people. He was probably expecting a pat on the back, but an animal rights activist, responded: “Itni jor se band-baja bajwa ke nireeh jaanwar ko behra kar diya hoga (The loud music must have made the innocent animal deaf).” There is no need to try things that create conflict, she added. When another one later referred to pink autos being drive by women on Rohtak, the minister, in a lighter vein, asked him if he had tried to check on increase in the number of road accidents. She did appreciate the efforts of women driving autos, though.
Dhankar-media game on
It was interesting to see who was more eager at a press conference – the journalists to extract information from agriculture minister OP Dhankar or he, to give out. Though Dhankar spoke in detail about the “Haryana Swaran Jayanti Panchayat Sammelan” at Gohana and “Gram Uday se Bharat Uday” campaign in Haryana, the media sought to know something else. As soon as he concluded speaking on these programmes, the journalists rained questions about the proposed formation of three districts in Haryana which was being examined by a panel headed by him. While Dhankar said the panel was just a sub-committee of the cabinet and would only make recommendations, the journalists sought to know the names. Dhankar began coyly, but then gave out the entire information about the districts – Charkhi Dadri, Hansi, Gohana – and much more about tehsils, blocks etc. The media, as expected, carried stories about the sub-committee’s proposals, and not the programmes he had come to talk about. The minister also probably knew it.
Virbhadra, Shanta walk hand in hand
Bonhomie between Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh and BJP veteran leader Shanta Kumar is an open secret. At a function held for inauguration of an inn at RPG Medical College in Kangra, the two leaders walked “hand in hand” and also shared the stage. Virbhadra, while heaping praise on Shanta at a short press conference on the occasion, took a dig at his predecessor Prem Kumar Dhumal who also belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Pointing at Shanta, Virbhadra said he is the most decent leader in the opposition, but Dhumal has changed the definition of decency and stoops too low to hit out at rivals. The CM’s “open and bold” utterances left Shanta embarrassed. He did not know how to react.
Himachal Pradesh transport minister GS Bali likes to throw tantrums to hog the limelight even though he has to face embarrassment on many occasions. The other day, Bali boasted about All India Congress Committee chief Sonia Gandhi coming to his constituency to inaugurate a state-run engineering college. He declared it a state government programme, saying that she will address a rally and given a rousing welcome. When chief minister Virbhadra Singh was asked about the Congress president’s visit and the events lined up for the same, he expressed complete ignorance, stating that he had not received any such communication. “The state government is not organising any such programme. I think it might be some private function at Bali’s place,” he quipped snubbing his cabinet colleague.
(Contributed by Pawan Sharma, Sukhdeep Kaur, Gurpreet Singh Nibber, Prabhjit Singh, Navneet Sharma, Rajesh Moudgil and Naresh K Thakur)