In his valedictory speech on the concluding day of the Second Progressive Punjab Investors’ Summit last week, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal stated what sounded like a faux pas. Or was it a secret he inadvertently let out? Recalling an encounter with Punjabis in a foreign country, he said they were from “Moga, my constituency”. While for his audience at the function, the remark had no significance, it became the talking point in political circles. The “Moga remark” raised many questions: Has he (Sukhbir) decided to contest from Moga assembly seat, now represented by Joginder Pal Jain? What would be Jain’s fate? How would Moga Akali leader Jathedar Tota Singh take this? “I have no problem if he comes to Moga, because as Faridkot MP, Sukhbir would win from Moga segment with the highest margin,” is how Tota Singh responded. If he does make the switch, who is going to be the party candidate from Jalalabad, currently represented by Sukhbir, would be watched closely.
Rising of sons
Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal is the one who usually does all the talking for the SAD-BJP government in the state. The two-day investor summit held at SAS Nagar was no different. When his turn came to address the gathering, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said he had nothing to say as Sukhbir had said everything. “Today’s generation has changed everything and sons don’t leave anything for fathers,” he remarked in his trademark style. Earlier, Bajaj Group chairman Rahul Bajaj, in his speech, had also said that investment-related decisions were taken by his son, who had taken over from him.
Congress factions: Just ‘moles’ apart
It is not just the MLAs rallying behind former Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh that is the envy of Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa, but also the “moles” in Amarinder’s coterie. Bajwa loves to tell journos how some “moles” are sabotaging Congress chances by leaking information to SAD president Sukhbir Badal and his brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia. Bajwa, too, had “planted” a few in Amarinder’s camp to do a headcount and record conversations during the luncheons and dinners hosted by the former Patiala royal. The Amarinder camp did ditto by winning over some of Bajwa’s confidants. The spy wars are not limited to warring factions. There are wheels within wheels even in the Amarinder camp. Some staunch Captain loyalists mistrust one another and offer conflicting theories. The Congress seems to be applying Chanakya’s doctrine of knowing enemy secrets rather well. Only the enemies are all on the same side of the battleline.
Punjab IAS officers DK Tewari and JM Balamurugan are unhappy these days. In an anomaly created by the recent set of transfers and postings, both have been made to report to their batch mate Vikas Pratap Singh. All three are of the 1994 batch. While Vikas is secretary, local government, Tewari is CEO, water supply and sewerage board, and Balamurugan is CEO, Punjab Municipal Infrastructure Development Board. The administrative department controlling both these boards is the department of local government. When Tewari went cribbing to chief secretary Sarvesh Kaushal, he was told point blank that Vikas Pratap is their senior in intra-batch positions.
Jumping the gun
The constant speculation over Capt Amarinder Singh’s likely appointment as the chief of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee has had his supporters going overboard. The social media was flooded with comments every time he met AICC president Sonia Gandhi or vice-president Rahul Gandhi in the recent past. A few of his supporters even went to the extent of posting old pictures of the former chief minister with garlands and bouquets. Taken in by speculations, some overenthusiastic supporters, in their eagerness to be the first to congratulate him, even sent their statements to journalists, appreciating the high command’s decision. A group of Congress workers in Ludhiana, who are always ready with 10-kg laddoos, were about to start distribution of sweets to “celebrate the appointment” but for a wise party leader’s timely intervention.
Suggestions for PMO
The response to the investment meet overwhelmed Punjab deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal so much that he started giving suggestions to the Prime Minister’s Office on how to handle the business of investments. In his speech, Sukhbir suggested to PMO to set up a separate department and officers dedicated to deal with the investments coming to India. He also coined a name, ‘Invest India’, for the department, just like his government’s ‘Invest Punjab’ division.
The other Badal
People’s Party of Punjab chief Manpreet Singh Badal doesn’t like to be addressed as “Badal sahib”, but he recently rejected a suggestion to drop the high-profile surname. “Badal is a village that does not belong to the chief minister (Parkash singh Badal) alone. I also carry the legacy of my village” is how the former finance minister responded to a suggestion made by one of his comrades at a small public meeting at a village near Kotkapura in Faridkot district. Manpreet, at the same time, has been telling his party men from the time he floated his party in 2011 not to address him as “Badal sahib”.
Politics and business
Politicians queue up to welcome investors these days, but few of them are candid about it. The relationship between politicians and businessmen, according to deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, has seen a drastic change in recent years. “There was a time when business houses used to wait outside chief ministers’ offices. Now, CMs line up outside their premises,” he said at the investment meet. But Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani was not amused. “It does not matter who is chasing whom. The need is for businessmen and politicians to join hands for people’s benefit,” he replied.
At the investors’ meet in SAS Nagar, bureaucrats, who are considered powerful and never miss an opportunity to throw their weight around, were on their toes. Playing host to Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani and others, the officers, especially those from the district administration, could be seen putting their best foot forward to impress the visiting captains of the industry with their “hospitality”. When Ambani was leaving the venue, the local deputy commissioner and a principal secretary-rank officer had to virtually “run” to keep pace with him.
After photographs of deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal playing cards with the elderly at his native Badal village surfaced online two days ago, former Punjab director general (prisons) Shashi Kant, who is active on WhatsApp, took a dig at the Akali leader. “Sukhbir’s future planning...Or Sukhbir plays cards when Punjab burns...Nero also fiddled when Rome burnt...Height of insensitivity (sic),” he wrote to his friends on the messaging service. The deputy CM, who did not know the basics, apparently lost the game. Later, he also took a round of the village and uploaded pictures on his Facebook page, mentioning a particular halwai (sweetshop)’s pakoras.
A late Karva Chauth
To err, they say, is human. But frequent mistakes are embarrassing. When the Haryana government recently declared a holiday for all women employees posted in all government offices, boards, corporations and educational institutes on Karva Chauth, the official order gave the wrong date, November 30, instead of October 30. Only after the notification went viral on social media a modified order was issued and posted on the chief secretary’s official website. But this isn’t the only gaffe. The state finance minister’s budget speech had got the spelling of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name wrong. Then, a minister’s name was missing from an official order on another occasion. Government statements often wrongly spell the names of ministers and officers.
Reading between the tweets
Two back-to-back tweets by Haryana Janhit Congress chief and Adampur MLA Kuldeep Bishnoi created a buzz on the social media last week. On his twitter handle, he posted photos of his father, former chief minister Bhajan Lal, with former prime minister Indira Gandhi and paid rich tributes to the latter, terming her “the greatest PM of the country”. In his next tweet, he also paid tributes to ‘Iron Man’ Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on his birth anniversary. While his tweets were favourited by his Twitter followers, political observers also tried to read if there was any political meaning in them.
Hooda’s standard retort
Former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is not known to be an articulate politician. On top of it, he often gives standard replies to questions. When he was asked at a press conference on Thursday about the Commission of Inquiry set up by the state government to probe the Vadra licence issue, Hooda responded by saying that the BJP government was “like a blind man looking for a black cat in a dark room.” Now this wasn’t something new. A few years ago, Hooda, who was in power in the state, gave the same reply when asked by a reporter about the opposition charge of irregularity in giving panchayat land on lease to a trust. In 2010 also, an opposition leader had recounted that when he wrote to Hooda about a controversial issue, how the latter had likened him to a blind man groping in a dark room for a black cat which was not there.
A different experience
Politicians don’t always practise what they preach. Before coming to power, BJP leaders used to be critical of the previous regime for re-employing retired staff and officials, ignoring the unemployed youth. But its government appears to be following in their footsteps. While the government has retained or re-employed several retired officials in its first year, it has also gone a step further as only retirees are being considered for some tasks. The state authorities recently decided to engage staff for the chief minister’s grievance redressal system by holding walk-in interviews. Guess who all are eligible? Only retired superintendents and assistants of the State Civil Secretariat can apply. The maximum age limit is 65. The selected applicants would be engaged for a year, initially. The unemployed youth are not being considered for these jobs.
Rivalry in BJP polls
The BJP is quietly holding its district and block unit elections in Himachal Pradesh. Though nothing much, barring an occasional report, has appeared in the media, factions owing allegiance to the saffron party bigwigs in the state are trying their best to outdo one another. As usual, supporters of Prem Kumar Dhumal and Shanta Kumar, both former chief ministers, are at daggers drawn. However, the two groups united for the election of Nalagarh MLA KL Thakur as Solan district chief.
Unity no uphill task
The BJP has decided to accommodate its alliance partner, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), where the latter couldn’t win a single seat out of the eight it contested. The BJP, which won 18 of the 26 council seats, has decided to induct three of the four nominated councillors, from the PDP. Though the alliance partners had contested independently, they have decided to give a semblance of unity in Leh region to avoid dual power centre. Also, some see it as an effort to cement their ties.
(Gurpreet Singh Nibber, Sukhdeep Kaur, Chitleen K Sethi, Anshu Seth, Prabhjit Singh, Shailee Dogra, Navneet Sharma, Rajesh Moudgil, Gaurav Bisht, Tarun Upadhyay)