The Great Regional Circus: Gainers, Losers, Game Changers and Fire-Spitters
Crafty campaigners, dodgy deras, somersaulting clowns, rising rookies and sports gave 2014 some of its most memorable moments - and also forgettable ones. HT profiles 28 such newsmakers.chandigarh Updated: Dec 27, 2014 17:13 IST
Crafty campaigners, dodgy deras, somersaulting clowns, rising rookies and sports gave 2014 some of its most memorable moments - and also forgettable ones.
Achievers, including sports stars who brought glory for India. Not everyone took the graceful route. A few did somersaults, not of the sporting kind, to rise.
An ageing ‘maharaja’ bounced back, a rookie party tasted success and a controversial baba helped spring a surprise. They helped alter the political landscape.
Known more for their stinging one-liners than sharp political acumen, these motormouth netas hogged the headlines. When they are around, there is no dull moment.
As fortunes fluctuated in an election year, many politicians’ reputations were ruined. The ground shifted beneath them due to their messy moves and unrestrained greed.
Crafty campaigners, dodgy deras, somersaulting clowns, rising rookies and sports gave 2014 some of its most memorable moments - and also forgettable ones
As the Punjab CM’s daughter-in-law and the deputy CM’s wife, she was able to shower her government’s largesse on her Lok Sabha constituency, Bathinda. But the Badal bahu barely scraped through this Lok Sabha election against family rebel Manpreet Badal. However, she leapfrogged to the Union cabinet as the only entry from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). Harsimrat (47) is now the main voice, troubleshooter and liaison person for the Badals in Delhi, though with little success so far.
At 16, the teenage shooter from Ludhiana wasn’t just the youngest member of the Indian contingent at the Commonwealth Games. She also became the youngest-ever Indian to win a medal in the games. Daughter of a Punjab cop, Malaika won the silver in the 10-metre air pistol event, displaying amazing consistency and nerve.
After the 2012 Olympics bronze medal, 2014 turned out to be another fruitful year for the 32-year-old Sonepat grappler. He first bagged the gold in the Commonwealth Games and then went on to end India’s wrestling gold medal drought by coming up trumps at the Asian Games in Incheon (South Korea). The last time an Indian wrestler (Kartar Singh) won the gold at the continental games was back in 1986 at Seoul, also in South Korea.
No wonder he can’t wipe the grin off his face. The Jat leader, neglected by the Congress in recent years, severed his four-decade-long association with the party and joined the BJP just days before the assembly elections in Haryana. The BJP’s victory turned his luck as he landed a berth in the Narendra Modi cabinet.
It was a dream year for the Indian men’s hockey team skipper, who hails from Sirsa (Haryana). Sardar (28) led the team to the gold in the Asian Games. The title victory, coming after a gap of 16 years, earned India a direct berth in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Earlier, the team won the silver in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Manohar Lal Khattar
A first-time MLA, he beat the odds to become the Haryana chief minister. Handpicked by Narendra Modi, the RSS ideologue was preferred over several more well-known and experienced colleagues in the BJP. His first big test was the police operation to arrest Satlok Ashram head Rampal, where the state government, despite initial criticism for not doing enough, emerged successful.
His story is straight out of the movies or a fairytale – from a plumber in the Middle East to a Union minister in Modi’s team. A first-time MP from Hoshiarpur, he had Lady Luck shining bright on him. Behind Sampla’s elevation is the BJP’s well-crafted strategy to woo Punjab’s huge Dalit vote bank.
India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist, this sporting icon won the yellow metal in his pet shooting event – 10-metre air rifle – in the Commonwealth Games. Then, the 32-year-old bagged the bronze in the same event at the Asian Games in Incheon.
Ravneet Singh Bittu
A sitting MP, he was dropped from the Anandpur Sahib seat by the Congress for “anti-incumbency and unpopularity”. But he was soon fielded from Ludhiana, where incumbent MP Manish Tewari was shying away from a contest. Grandson of late Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, who hailed from Kotli village in Ludhiana district, Bittu (39) was among the three Congress candidates who won in Punjab, as he charmed voters and gained from the four-cornered contest.
A trusted lieutenant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his rise has been steady. When he quit the Himachal Pradesh cabinet in 2010 to become the party’s national general secretary, his move was seen with skepticism. He has proved the naysayers wrong, though. Backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Nadda worked with three successive party chiefs: Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah. Now, he has been inducted into the Union cabinet as the health and family welfare minister.
A firebrand leader and wife of former minister late Surender Singh, she did not have the best start to the year, as her daughter Shruti Choudhry failed to retain her parliamentary seat of Bhiwani-Mahendergarh. Later, though the Congress was reduced to a poor third in the Haryana assembly elections, with many party leaders losing their seats, Kiran won her Tosham seat comfortably. Then, the Congress high command chose her to lead the MLAs in the assembly, sidelining former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
Capt Amarinder Singh
His critics had written his political epitaph after the Congress’ second consecutive loss under his watch in the Punjab assembly polls. But in 2014, the 72-year-old turned the tables on the Akalis and the BJP. He trumped BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley to win the Amritsar parliamentary seat and became the deputy leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha. Back home, it dealt a blow to SAD-BJP ties, while within the Congress, he gained vis-à-vis Partap Bajwa, who lost his seat.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
The maverick head of Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda commands tremendous veneration among his followers and is seen as a kingmaker. In the Haryana assembly polls, the 47-year-old dera chief openly backed the BJP. Some of the credit for the saffron party’s superlative performance has been given to the dera’s support. Now starring in a movie (‘MSG: The Messenger of God’), he is the only person to have been accorded ‘Z-plus’ security in Haryana, besides the governor and the CM.
Aam Aadmi Party
The rookie party changed the bipolar history of Punjab politics by clinching four Lok Sabha seats out of 13 (it drew a blank in the rest of the country). Battling loss of credibility after giving up on its dream mandate of governing Delhi, the AAP, including Bhagwant Mann, upset the election arithmetic for the SAD-BJP and the Congress in several seats. The party tried to hijack the SAD’s Panthic agenda and cashed in on infighting in the Congress.
Navjot Singh Sidhu
The former BJP MP has waged the most damaging verbal war against the ruling Akalis in Punjab. The vitriolic outbursts of the cricketer-turned-politician led to denial of ticket to him from the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat. But Sidhu (52) gave both the SAD and the BJP jitters by refusing to campaign for mentor and BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley, who lost comprehensively. He also fired heavy artillery at the Badals during the Haryana assembly elections. His Badal-bashing has made him a favourite among many, including the BJP, for the top job.
Sukhpal Singh Khaira
He has earned many epithets — from motormouth to misguided missile. The 49-year-old Punjab Congress spokesperson has been able to do both — make news and be in the news. His daily press statements make enough noise to rattle the Badal regime to react. Khaira’s missiles at times have hit “unintended” targets, including state Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa. But he cannot be tamed and he definitely cannot be stopped.
Known for his flamboyance and political tantrums, the Himachal transport minister shares a love-hate relationship with chief minister Virbhadra Singh. Be it the government or the party, Bali (60) misses no opportunity to create a ruckus. He has also perfected the art of making somersaults. At one stage, he first threatened to go on leave and then changed his mind. Later, he gave up his official vehicle and also locked horns with the state Congress chief.
He was a big gainer in 2013 after wresting the hot seat of the Punjab Congress president from Amarinder Singh. This year, his fortunes nosedived. After his loss in the Lok Sabha election, he has been repeatedly ambushed by Amarinder. Since then, he has been busy fighting rebellion and settling scores with all he thinks owe allegiance to his rival.
Son of artful manipulator Bhajan Lal, he is ambitious but lacks his father’s political skills. His party, the Haryana Janhit Congress, came a cropper in the Lok Sabha as well as assembly elections. With or without BJP, the HJC met the same fate.
After failing to open his fledgling party’s account in the Punjab assembly polls, Manpreet (52) upped the stakes in the battle with his estranged family by contesting on the Congress ticket from their bastion, Bathinda, against sitting MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal. Though he gave the ruling family a run for their “money and muscle power”, he could not swing the election in his favour.
A controversial preacher, he didn’t think twice before panning religious beliefs, rituals and scriptures. At the same time, he started acting like a demigod. When Rampal (63) took on the courts, his world – a 12-acre ashram with a luxury pad in Barwala (Hisar) – came crashing down. Today, the sect head and his aides are cooling their heels in prison.
He was once among the power elite of Delhi as the Congress spokesman and later a Union minister. But he was gagged by the party and developed cold feet on re-contesting from Ludhiana Lok Sabha seat in the face of severe infighting, mostly of his own making.
The 39-year-old Punjab revenue minister is controversy’s ‘favourite child’ with his firebrand, care-two-hoots brand of politics. He has been garnering the spotlight for the wrong reasons, including alleged, yet-to-beproved links with the drug mafia. To keep a low profile, he opted out of the Youth Akali Dal presidency. However, his political woes are far from over, with the Enforcement Directorate having quizzed him in the Bhola drug racket.
Sarwan S Phillaur
From a low-profile three-time MLA to hitting the headlines in the Bhola drug racket, Phillaur lost his berth in the Badal cabinet after his son Damanjit Singh’s name figured in the multi-crore scandal. Phillaur went out without a whimper, with the opposition parties accusing the ruling SAD of sacrificing a Dalit minister, while the more “powerful” one remained out of bounds.
He emulated his father, veteran Congress leader Balram Jakhar, by becoming the Congress Legislature Party leader. Also like his father, he failed to win the Ferozepur Lok Sabha seat. The defeat weakened his position vis-à-vis Punjab Congress chief Partap Bajwa. But 2014 wasn’t without good tidings — the ‘homeless’ Jakhar finally got the Chandigarh house that former CLP leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal was refusing to vacate.
A close buddy of former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Venod was on cloud nine for the most part of the former’s tenure, but was down in the dumps after they parted ways. Scenting a BJP win, he tried to join the party, but failed. He also tried in vain for the HJC ticket from Karnal Lok Sabha seat. Finally, he floated his own party for the assembly polls. The result: Venod and his wife lost security deposits.
Bhupinder S Hooda
A two-time Haryana CM, the Jat leader appeared confident before the Lok Sabha polls, banking on sops and freebies. But the results jolted him. Before the assembly elections, he tried to use the slogan, “Upar Narendra (Modi), Neeche Bhupinder”, to pep up his supporters. But the Congress finished a poor third. And, he was blamed for the rout.
Wife of Himachal chief minister Virbhadra Singh, the two-time MP from Mandi – a hot seat for scions of royal families – suffered a humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, despite her husband’s political sway. The loss was a huge setback for Virbhadra. Then, the family was rocked by corruption charges.