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Region in the rearview: From Miss World Manushi Chhillar to new Himachal CM Jai Ram Thakur, meet the 17 newsmakers of 2017

Hindustan Times takes a look back at the newsmakers and events that made headlines and hopes 2018 brings stability and peace with it for the region—Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.

punjab Updated: Dec 26, 2017 20:37 IST
HT Correspondents 
HT Correspondents 
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
2017,Gurmeet Ram Rahim,Harsimrat Badal
Miss World 2017 Manushi Chillar, new Himachal Pradesh CM Jai Ram Thakur,and Bollywood actor Zaira Wasim(Biswajit Debnath/HT)

Winds of change swept the region in 2017. From two new governments taking charge in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh to the Centre giving Kashmir a fresh ray of hope by appointing a special representative after a tumultuous first half to the Dera Sacha Sauda chief’s conviction and its violent fallout, the four states— Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir— have seen it all.

1. The shuttler CM: Capt Amarinder Singh

Illustration by Biswajit Debnath

The Captain declared he will hang up his boots after his last hurrah. On March 11, as he turned 75, the Congress stormed to power with a stellar tally of 77. But old habits die hard. Amarinder’s laidback style of functioning, not visiting Punjab or meeting party leaders ignited a succession battle. A sore ankle was to blame. But the Captain was quick to change his game. He declared he was taking another shot at power. The next day, his pictures playing badminton created a flutter on Twitter. His ankle doesn’t rankle him anymore, it’s just his detractors who do.

2. Fast and furious: Navjot Singh Sidhu, local government minister

Like on the cricket pitch, Sidhu, remains fast and furious even as a minister. After courting the AAP, he joined the Congress in January and contested from his wife’s seat in Amritsar. The local government minister has since remained in the news. From his swipes at Akalis inside the assembly, the tirade against cable transmission company Fastway and tiffs with bureaucrats of his department, Sidhu has been batting on all fronts. His favourite shot: Hit out at the CM and then cosy up to him.

Punjab local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu (left); and Punjab finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal (right) ( Biswajit Debnath/HT )

3. FM stands for financial miseries: Manpreet Badal

He is Punjab’s very own interpreter of maladies. A debilitating financial crisis has only turned worse under his watch and has stymied the government’s much-touted promises, including farm loan waiver. His sister-in-law and Union minister Harsimrat Badal calls him “a failed finance minister”. He will need more than his sparkling oratory and self-professed love for history to prove her wrong. The GST lifeline has fallen short of resuscitating the financially choked state. He remains as cashless and clueless as he was when took up his second stint as FM in March.

4. Free speech warrior: Gurmehar Kaur

The Jalandhar girl became the face of the fight against the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) after she joined a social media campaign to protest clashes at Delhi University’s Ramjas College. Gurmehar was trolled for one of her older social media posts on her father, Capt Mandeep Singh, a Kargil martyr, in which she said Pakistan didn’t kill her father, war did. In October, Time magazine named her one of its 10 ‘Next Generation Leaders’ for 2017.

Gurmehar Kaur (left); and AAP leaderSukhpal Singh Khaira (right) ( Biswajit Debnath/HT )

5. One-man army: Sukhpal Singh Khaira

A firebrand leader with a penchant for publicity, Khaira made headlines for both the right and wrong reasons. He went after the Congress government, particularly his old bête noire and power minister Rana Gurjit Singh, by digging out dirt on him on the sand mines auction. But the AAP leader was in the dock after a court summoned him in a drug smuggling case. He took the battle to the apex court that granted him a stay. Khaira also landed in an unsavoury controversy for using intemperate language and taking swipes at the CM’s private life.

6. The sandman: Rana Gurjit Singh

Days after it came to power, the Capt Amarinder Singh government was left red-faced by the businessman-turned-politician. The minister faced allegations of impropriety for using “frontmen” to bid for sand mines in Punjab. After AAP leader Sukhpal Khaira led the charge against him, the government set up a one-member inquiry commission. The panel, in its report submitted to the CM in August, pointed out irregularities but absolved the minister on all counts.

(Left)Rana Gurjit Singh ; and (right) Gurdaspur MP Sunil Jakhar ( Biswajit Debnath/HT )

7. Comeback man: Sunil Jakhar

On highs and lows, 2017 seems to have been the most eventful for Sunil Jakhar. The Congress romped home with a thumping win of 77 seats but Jakhar lost his home seat, Abohar. This was a fourth setback to his political career after losing the Lok Sabha elections from Ferozepur in 2014, being replaced as leader of opposition in 2015 and not being nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 2016. He was resurrected as the party’s state chief and went on to win the Lok Sabha bypoll in Gurdaspur by a record margin. For now, he is happy being Captain’s Man Friday.

8. Baba’s nemesis: Gurmeet Ram Rahim and adopted daughter Honeypreet

Illustration by Biswajit Debnath

The conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in rape case by a CBI court on August 25 in Panchkula and the role of his closest aide Honeypreet in the violence by his followers put the two in the media glare for weeks. Said to be the Dera head’s adopted daughter, Honeypreet or Priyanka Taneja of Fatehabad rose through the ranks because of her proximity to Ram Rahim. She was on the run for 38 days before being arrested and charged with sedition and inciting Dera followers after the conviction.

9. Crowning glory: Miss World Manushi Chhillar

Born in a Jat family in Rohtak, Manushi was crowned Miss World 2017 on November 18. While her father, Dr Mitra Basu Chhillar, is a scientist at Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), her mother, Dr Neelam Chhillar, is an associate professor of neurochemistry. Manushi did her schooling from St Thomas School, New Delhi, and is pursuing a medical degree at the Bhagat Phool Singh Medical College, Sonepat. She is the brand ambassador for anaemia-free Haryana. Her beauty with a purpose campaign, Project Shakti, has also been given the state government’s support of Rs 18 crore by ensuring free availability of sanitary napkins for all girls in government schools in the state.

10. Shaky survivor: Haryana BJP president Subhash Barala

Barala looked on a shaky wicket after his son, Vikas, was accused of stalking Varnika Kundu, the daughter of senior IAS officer VS Kundu on the streets of Chandigarh in July. Barala was even accused of using his influence to shield his son and there were calls to strip him of his post. However, he survived the scare.

(Left)Haryana BJP chief Subhash Barala was accused of using his influence to shield his son, Vikas, accused of stalking Varnika Kundu ; and (right) Major Leetul Gogoi ( Biswajit Debnath/HT )

11. Courage under fire: Leetul Gogoi

Major Leetul Gogoi tied a Kashmiri shawl weaver Farooq Dar, a resident of Chill village in Budgam district, to the bonnet of a jeep as a human shield on April 9 during the Srinagar parliamentary bypoll. He said he did so to deter stone-pelters from targeting CRPF troops and election staff. The Kashmir Valley reacted in anger against the human rights violation, while the opinion outside the valley was divided. Major Gogoi was awarded a commendation certificate by Army chief General Bipin Rawat for “sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations” even before the findings of court of inquiry against him was made public.

12. Face of Kashmir in Bollywood: Zaira Waseem

The 17-year-old actor from Kashmir was in news throughout the year after her performance in Aamir Khan’s film Dangal, which won her the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress. She also acted in Aamir Khan’s next film, Secret Superstar. Wasim stirred a debate in March after she called an “open confession/apology” following criticism over her meeting with chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. The criticism was in the backdrop of unprecedented unrest since last year’s July 8 killing of militant commander Burhan Wani, whose death triggered protests that left more than 90 people dead.

13. Modi’s man: Manohar Lal Khattar

Illustration by Biswajit Debnath

Already under fire for the sloppy handling of Jat quota agitation last year, Khattar and the state administration allowed the buildup of Dera supporters in Panchkula in August, leading to arson and violence after Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s conviction in a rape trial. Khattar, who has the blessings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, remained in the saddle despite a series of blunders.

14. Generational shift at helm:Jai Ram Thakur

At 52, Thakur will usher in a generational shift in the BJP when he takes oath as the third BJP chief minister of Himachal Pradesh on Wednesday. Having risen through the ranks from the ABVP to the BJP, he is known to have a good rapport with the RSS. His patience and humility will help him keep the flock of 44 party legislators together. The five-time MLA from Seraj in Mandi district pipped Union health minister JP Nadda to the CM’s post but his real test starts now as he needs to keep factions in the state BJP united, especially after the exit of former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal from the state’s political scene. Mild mannered Thakur’s elevation is seen as the rise of the second generation leadership in the 37-year-old saffron party.

15. All in the family: Mufti siblings

Illustration by Biswajit Debnath

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti was elected People’s Democratic Party president for the sixth time in December, indicating her hold on the party. The election comes even as her brother, Tasaduq Mufti, a cinematographer, joined the PDP and was appointed coordinator of the CM’s grievance cell. Tasaduq has been nominated to the legislative council against a vacancy.

16. Loser in victory: Prem Kumar Dhumal

His was the most stunning upset in the Himachal assembly polls where he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Projected as the BJP’s chief ministerial face, the teacher-turned-politician was taught the most ironic lesson of electoral politics as he lost to his one-time protégé, while his party romped home to a near two-third majority in the hill state. He was left with no option but to accept a fellow Rajput leader, Jai Ram Thakur, who hit the power jackpot in the most talked about reversal of fortunes.

17. Raja’s apple cart upset: Virbhadra Singh

Illustration by Biswajit Debnath

Congress patriarch Virbhadra Singh, 83, had to fight many battles at the fag end of his political career. In the face of corruption charges he faced the ignominy of being labelled a bad apple and presided over the party’s humiliating rout in assembly polls. The only saving grace was his win and that of his son, Vikramaditya. Post-defeat, there is a question mark on his grip on the party with detractors calling for his scalp. While it may be the end of the road for Raja, his dream to anoint his son as heir apparent looks uncertain.

First Published: Dec 26, 2017 19:54 IST