The king and his men
In his new innings as Punjab Congress president, Captain Amarinder Singh is back with his durbar but the strategy is no more decided over a glass of evening drink. The so-called loyalists of Patiala’s royal scion were as clueless as his detractors about the possibility of the boycott of the Khadoor Sahib byelection, till the last day of filing nominations. It left the Congress secretary in charge of Punjab, Shakeel Ahmad, in a rather awkward situation, as he had assured the media that the contest was on and released Ramanjit Sikki’s name for candidate a day before. The “ideological stand” of opting out of the bypoll could have been a masterstroke, had it not come on the last day after much flip-flop. On the whys you may or may not believe what Amarinder — who earlier never shied away from speaking his mind openly — had to say. The king and his men seem to have a new mantra as Amarinder presides over probably his last election, at times a lie or two can save a day.
No friends for this Badal
Not very long ago, Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh had called him a “summer storm”. People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) founder Manpreet Singh Badal proved him right by sweeping away a precious 5% of the anti-incumbency votes in the state in 2012. Then it was Amarinder’s bête noire Partap Singh Bajwa, who had, later, welcomed Manpreet into the party fold in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. But now that the Badal family rebel has merged his party into the Congress and is being seen as next in line for leadership, he has forgotten his old friend Bajwa for new friend Amarinder. The logic is simple — it is the last battle cry for Captain, while both Bajwa and Manpreet are looking beyond 2017 to stake a claim to party leadership. Old PPP friends, too, have fallen out with Manpreet. For the new Badal on the Congress block, no old friends please!
Counting on NOTA
It was to be a “semi-final” before the big battle for Punjab in 2017, but the Khadoor Sahib byelection is of little interest to anyone other than statisticians now. First, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress opted out. Then the nomination papers of Bhai Baldeep, who was hoping to pose a challenge to the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) with the backing of Swaraj Abhiyan floated by Yogendra Yadav and other AAP rebels, got rejected, leaving the field open to the Akalis. The SAD’s detractors on the social media haven’t lost hope, though. Some of them are pitching for NOTA (none of the above), saying those who don’t want to vote for the ruling party should press this button on the electronic voting machine. With little interest left in the bypoll, they are unlikely to find many takers. All in vain.
On a photo trip
Chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar travels to Delhi by the Shatabdi Express, occasionally. Whenever he boards the train, his public relations team gets into action, taking his photographs and pushing those on the social media and messaging services as part of the image-building exercise. The CM’s Shatabdi photographs went viral twice on WhatsApp in the past two weeks. In one set, he was shown reading newspapers, and on his next trip, clearing official files with an aide in tow. While these repeated photographs don’t seem to have much novelty now, perhaps his ministerial colleagues, who have hit the headlines for burning fuel worth lakhs of rupees every month, could draw some lesson from his train trips.
Information technology has its pluses and minuses. Haryana Election Commission though was effective in leading the e-dashboard initiative for real-time updates on panchayat poll results, it goofed up a bit. The commission categorised at least seven elected members as “transgender” on the e-dashboard. The result — the telephones of these winners kept buzzing all day, with curious reporters sniffing an interesting story, much to their chagrin. On realising their mistake, the state election commission officials removed the error within a few hours. A senior officer, however, held that a small glitch was excusable, as it was the first time that such an initiative had been taken. “Please appreciate that we put information of more than 70,000 newly elected sarpanches, panches and zila parishad members online... a little mistake could creep in,” he said.
Sorry for interruption
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not contest the Haryana panchayat elections on its symbol, but its leaders appeared quick to claim victory. Not only this, while BJP state president Subhash Barala made the victory claim on the day of the last-round results, panchayat minister OP Dhankar followed suit a day later. But it did not go as planned. The venue — the Chandigarh Press Club — chosen by the minister was under renovation and had make-shift seating arrangements. The situation became odd further when one of the under-repair electrical connections got snapped and the audio went off for a few minutes. What Dhankar spoke was hardly audible until the connection was restored.
Hunt for ‘black sheep’
Despite having the maximum strength in the House, the ruling Congress suffered a humiliating defeat in the election for the zila parishad chairman’s seat in Kangra the other day. Stung by cross-voting in the crucial election, the party leaders sparred over the “black sheep” who betrayed the party. The blame game triggered by chief parliamentary secretary Neeraj Bharti on Facebook led to a flood of comments from followers, who blamed one or the other leader. By the evening, chief minister Virbhadra Singh also joined in, saying that the party will find the “big black sheep” who instigated the small ones to cross-vote. Never the one to miss such an opportunity, the opposition BJP mocked at the Congress. “We are thankful to the black sheep who helped us win,” is how a former minister of the BJP teased the ruling party.
The bonhomie between Bharatiya Janata Party veteran leader Shanta Kumar and Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh is not hidden from anyone. They don’t miss any opportunity to heap praise on each other, but it’s not the same lately. The relations seems to have strained with the two octogenarian leaders taking on each other in public. Upset over the lack of progress in a ropeway project in Palampur, Shanta, MP from that seat, slammed the CM, saying that the government was “virtually creeping”. When asked about the frequent outbursts from the BJP leader, whom he had termed most complacent leader, Virbhadra was quick to reply: “Perhaps his complacence needs new definition”.
Sloppy HP cops
Himachal Pradesh Police drew flak recently for its sloppy working style. First, they misread the events before the terror attack on the Pathankot airbase. The state cops, instead of tightening the security, drew a conclusion that the kidnapping of the Gurdaspur superintendent of police was a petty issue related to old enmity. They again goofed up on the missing taxi, whose driver was found murdered. After Delhi Police sounded an alert about the missing car, the baffled cops started an investigation, despite having registered a first-information report (FIR) a week ago. Instead of finding the car, they were more concerned about finding the “department man” who informed the Delhi and Punjab cops. Finally, they found out that an officer of the level of additional director general of police (ADGP) supplied the information.
Time to vacate
The ministers in the former BJP-PDP government in Jammu and Kashmir are heading for a double whammy. After Peoples’ Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti vacated the chief minister’s residence allotted to her father, former CM late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, in Jammu, there is pressure on them to do the same. Under the rules, former ministers can retain the official residence for only one month. Their security has been withdrawn already. The nervous former ministers are visiting senior leaders of respective parties to get a whiff about the date of government formation. But Mehbooba has not given them any hint, so far. The month given for vacating the house ends on February 8. All eyes were on the party legislators’ meeting that Mehbooba had called on Sunday, but no one seemed sure of its outcome.
Contributed by Sukhdeep Kaur, Navneet Sharma, Rajesh Moudgil, Naresh K Thakur and Tarun Upadhyay