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Ex-Diplomat Taranjit Sandhu Among BJP’s First List of 6 For Punjab

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Taranjit Singh Sandhu named BJP candidate from Amritsar for the June 1 Lok Sabha polls in Punjab

 

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has played second fiddle to its senior electoral alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab for decades, in its first independent foray appears to have put its best foot forward by announcing seemingly strong candidates to six of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the border state which goes to the polls in the seventh and last round on June 1, 2024.

Expectedly, the party has fielded career diplomat and former Indian Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu, who recently joined the party after his retirement, from Amritsar, where he has very strong family roots, including in Sikh politics and in the educational sphere.

The saffron party has replaced ‘perpetual absentee’ actor Sunny Deol from Gurdaspur with former Deputy Speaker of the Vidhan Sabha and three-time BJP MLA from Sujanpur, Dinesh Singh ‘Babbu’, in Gurdaspur and shifted renowned Punjabi folk and Sufi singer Hans  Raj Hans from North West Delhi to Faridkot (SC).

The other three are all sitting MPs and recent entrants into the party fold from other parties – Preneet Kaur (ex-Congress), former Union minister of State and four-time MP, from Patiala; three time MP Ravneet Singh ‘Bittu’ (ex-Congress) from Ludhiana; and Sushil Kumar ‘Rinku’ (ex-Aam Aadmi Party) from Jalandhar (SC).

These six were named in the 8th list of 11 candidates from Punjab, Odisha and West Bengal announced by the BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The ruling AAP is the only other party in the state to have announced candidates so far. They have fielded five existing members of the Bhagwant Mann council of ministers among the candidates named for eight of the 13 constituencies. Among the ministers, Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal will contest from Amritsar, Laljit Singh Bhullar from Khadoor Sahib, Gurmeet Singh Khudian from Bathinda, Gurmeet Singh ‘Meet Hayer’ from Sangrur and Dr Balbir Singh from Patiala.

A former Congress MLA Gurpreet Singh ‘GP’ was named the party candidate from Fatehgarh Sahib (SC) a day after he joined AAP. Popular Punjabi singer, comedian and actor Karamjeet Anmol, understood to be a close friend of Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, once himself a well known comedian, was inducted into the party and given the party ticket to contest from Faridkot (SC).

Sitting party MP from Jalandhar Sushil Kumar ‘Rinku’ was given the party ticket again from the same constituency, but he embarrassed the party by scooting to the BJP.

The SAD and the Congress are yet to name their candidates as they play the wait and watch game in a very fluid scenario of party-hopping.

Taranjit Singh Sandhu from Amritsar

61-year-old Taranjit Singh Sandhu, who recently retired from the India foreign service after putting in 35 years (his last posting being Indian Ambassador to the US), comes from an illustrious family of Amritsar. His grandfather, Teja Singh Samundari, who left the British Army to lead ‘morchas’ for the liberation of gurdwaras (Gurdwara Reform Movement), has a building in the Golden Temple complex dedicated to his memory, the Teja Singh Samundari Hall.

His father Bishan Singh Samundari remained principal of the famous Khalsa College, Amritsar, and was the first Vice Chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) Amritsar. His mother Jagjit Kaur did a doctorate from the US and on returning to India become principal at Government College for Women, Amritsar.

Taranjit Singh Sandhu studied at The Lawrence School, Sanawar and graduated with History Honours from St. Stephens’ College, Delhi. He pursued a Master’s Degree in International Relations at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is married to another career diplomat Reenat Sandhu, who is currently India’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands. They have two children.

Dinesh Singh ‘Babbu’ from Gurdaspur

A former Deputy Speaker of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, ex-Chief Parliamentary Secretary and three-time MLA from Sujanpur constituency (2007-2022), Dinesh Singh ‘Babbu’ belongs to Manwal village, Pathankot and comes from a Suriyavanshi Rajput Barswal/Barsal family. In the last assembly elections in 2022, he lost to Naresh Puri of the Indian National Congress (INC).

Hans Raj Hans from Faridkot (SC)

Born in Shafipur village, near Jalandhar, renowned Punjabi folk and Sufi singer, Hans Raj Hans (Padma Shri), has been moved from North West Delhi seat, which he won as a BJP candidate in 2019, to Faridkot (SC).

An interesting contest is on the cards here since the ruling party in Punjab, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has already fielded another popular Punjab singer, comedian and actor Karamjeet Anmol, though much junior to Hans. Anmol’s maternal uncle Kuldeep Manak is also a highly respected Punjabi folk singer.

Hans Raj Hans, who started his innings in politics after joining the SAD, later moved to the Congress before crossing over to the BJP, as whose candidate he won the North West Delhi Parliamentary seat in his first attempt.

Faridkot is home to the famous Tilla Baba Farid, believed to be the resting place of the revered Sufi saint Baba Farid during his visit to the area nine centuries ago. The popular Baba Farid Mela is organised there in the memory of the great Sufi saint in which Hans has been a regular participant and visitor.

Preneet Kaur from Patiala

Preneet Kaur, wife of two-time chief minister of Punjab as also state Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh, remained Union minister of state in the Manmohan Singh council of ministers during his second term as Prime Minister. Besides being the sitting MP from Patiala, she has represented the constituency thrice before in 1999, 2004 and 2009 as a Congress candidate. After losing the elections in 2014, she made a comeback in 2019.

She was suspended by the Congress in 2023 for supporting her husband who quit the Congress after being removed as chief minister and formed his own party which eventually merged into the BJP. She recently quit the Congress and joined the BJP.

Ravneet Singh Bittu from Ludhiana

Grandson of assassinated Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh during terrorism in Punjab, Ravneet Singh ‘Bittu’, besides being the sitting MP from Ludhiana, has been MP twice earlier – first from Anandpur Sahib and then Ludhiana. He too recently quit the Congress and joined the BJP.

Sushil Kumar Rinku from Jalandhar

A former Congress MLA from Jalandhar West, Sushil Kumar ‘Rinku’ was lured into the AAP fold and fielded as the party candidate in the by polls to the Jalandhar (SC) Lok Sabha seat, necessitated by the death of Congress MP Santosh Singh Chaudhary, which he won by a margin of 58,000+ votes in 2023. Despite getting a repeat party ticket from the same constituency, ‘Rinku’ preferred to shift his allegiance to the BJP within a year of joining AAP, and was promptly adopted as the party candidate from Jalandhar (SC).

 

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It’s A Baby Girl! Proud Father, Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann!

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Picture of the baby girl shared by Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann on his X handle on Thursday.

Trust the baby girl was delivered in a spruced up Govt hospital!

Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and his wife Dr Gurpreet Kaur have been blessed with a baby girl. The chief minister took to his X handle on Thursday to share the news in Punjabi. The message, when translated, reads: “God has given the gift of a daughter… Both the mother and the child are healthy.”

Bhagwant Mann had married Gurpreet Kaur from Pehowa in Haryana, an MBBS doctor by profession, within months of being chosen to head the Aam Aadmi Party’s government in Punjab following a landslide victory for the party in the 2022 assembly elections.

This is Bhagwant Mann’s second marriage. He and his first wife Inderjeeet Kaur were divorced in 2015. They have two children, daughter Seerat Kaur (22) and Dilshan (19). Inderjeet Kaur is currently based in US.

Trust that the baby girl was delivered in a government hospital in Punjab! going by the claims that all government hospitals have been spruced up by upgrading their infrastructure and providing the latest facilities.

Lone AAP MP Rinku & MLA Angural Switch To BJP In Punjab

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Lone AAP MP Sushil Kumar Rinku from Jalandhar (extreme right) and party MLA from Jalandhar West Sheetal Angural (holding bouquet) being admitted to the BJP in New Delhi on 27.03.2024

The victor & vanquished in the 2022 assembly polls become buddies in joining BJP

Within hours of announcing to go it alone in the Lok Sabha elections in Punjab, after prolonged negotiations on striking a poll alliance with old senior partner in the state Shiromani Akali Dal failed, BJP has begun to show its cards, striking the ruling AAP in the state with a thunderbolt within 24 hours of giving a jolt to the Congress.

After weeks of rumours floating around, AAP’s only Lok Sabha member Sushil Kumar Rinku, its repeat pick for Jalandhar constituency for the 2024 elections, along with Sheetal Angural, the party’s MLA from Jalandhar West, formally joined the BJP in New Delhi on Wednesday. Both had been denying the rumours, claiming that they will stick with the AAP.

Coming a day after three-time Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, representing Ludhiana Lok Sabha constituency for the past two terms from 2014, switched to the BJP, these sensational developments have given credence to the widespread expectations that more crossovers to the BJP can be expected ahead of the polls in the state slated in the last phase on June 1.

Interestingly, the grassroots level politician, Rinku who had first entered the Vidhan Sabha winning on the Congress ticket from Jalandhar West in 2017, was beaten in the next election of 2022 by then AAP candidate Angural from the same seat by over 4,000 votes during the AAP wave which saw the party win a mammoth 92 seats in the 117 member state assembly.

Subsequently, he was drafted into the AAP ahead of the 2023 by-elections to the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat, necessitated by the death of then MP Santosh Singh Chaudhary of the Congress. He was given the AAP ticket and won by a comfortable 58,000+ votes, becoming the only party Lok Sabha member at the time. He remained in the party less than a year before switching loyalties again in favour of the BJP.

Rinku blamed the AAP government for not giving him enough support for fulfillment of the developmental promises made to the people of the Jalandhar Lok Sabha constituency, pointing to the bad state of roads and other civic amenities both in the urban and rural areas.

On the other hand he acknowledged the support extended to him by the central government in terms of expediting work to complete the Adampur civil airport and providing a Vande Bharat Express stopover to Jalandhar among other developmental initiatives, which he wants to carry forward.

An apparently embarrassed AAP, which had again announced the party ticket for Rinku from Jalandhar for the upcoming elections, termed him as a turncoat who will not be pardoned by the people of the state.

State BJP chief Sunil Jakhar, who was present at the joining ceremony where party national general secretary Vinod Tawde formally welcomed Rinku and Angural in the party fold, hit out at both his ex-party Congress and AAP in Punjab, claiming that both were two sides of the same coin – rudderless and lacking creditable leadership. For AAP, he said, it is a shame that it could not retain its only Lok Sabha member.

Ravneet Singh Bittu Latest Cong Leader To Join BJP

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Congress MP from Ludhiana, Punjab Ravneet Singh Bittu joining the BJP in the presence of party national general secretary Vinod Tawde in New Delhi on 26.03.2024

The trend of Congress leaders quitting the grand old party for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is continuing unabated. After the six unseated MLAs in Himachal Pradesh, and former MP Naveen Jindal in Haryana, it is the turn of the Congress in Punjab to be given a big jolt. Three-time Congress Lok Sabha member, currently representing the Ludhiana constituency in the state Ravneet Singh Bittu today quit the party and joined the BJP in New Delhi.

The formalities were completed at a press conference in New Delhi where the national general secretary of the saffron party Vinod Tawde welcomed Bittu to the party fold.

The joining comes a day after state BJP president Sunil Jakhar announced that the party will contest the lok sabha elections 2024 on its own, putting an end to the suspense over stitching a poll alliance with its old ally in the state Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

Bittu has been representing the Ludhiana constituency in the Lok Sabha since 2014, before which the assassinated Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh’s grandson won his first lok sabha elections from Anandpur Sahib in 2009. Beant Singh was killed in a bomb blast triggered by Khalistani terrorists in the heavily guarded state secretariat complex in 1995.

Bittu has been vocal against terrorism and terrorist groups and has reported received threats on several occasions to silence his voice.

During his joining press conference Ravneet Singh claimed that he was joining the BJP to strengthen the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah who have always had big plans for the development and progress of Punjab and for the farmers and farm labourers. While other states were progressing rapidly, Punjab was being left behind, he added.

On the other hand, while looking visibly disturbed over the development, state Congress President Amrinder Singh Raja Warring tried to put up a brave face saying that Bittu’s exit will not make any difference to the electoral prospects of the party in the state.

A Long Summer Election Schedule; Polling In 7 Phases From April 19

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Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar announcing schedule for 2024 elections to Lok Sabha and state assemblies in New Delhi on March 16, 2024.

Counting on June 4; Uttarakhand in 1st phase, Haryana in 6th and Punjab, HP & UT Chd in last; J&K assembly immediately after LS polls

While announcing the schedule for simultaneously holding election to the Lok Sabha, four state assemblies and bypolls to 26 assembly constituencies in seven phases, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has again dismissed the criticism of the electronic voter machines (EVMs), asserting that after due deliberations various high courts and the Supreme Court of India have at various times dismissed 40 petitions challenging the use of the EVMs.

CEC Rajiv Kumar showing a ECI book compilation of the 40 petitions against use of EVMs dismissed at different times by various high courts and the Supreme Court.

“The EVMs are safe,” declared Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar at the media briefing organized in New Delhi on Saturday (March 16, 2024).

In the press release shared with the media the ECI assured that the Supreme Court order regarding mandatory verification of VVPAT paper slip will be strictly followed.

“In pursuance of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India’s Order dated 8th April, 2019, the commission has mandated VVPAT slips count of five randomly selected polling stations in each assembly constituency/segment of the parliamentary constituency of the states/UTs by the returning officer, by draw of lot in presence of candidates/their counting agents & ECI observer, for verification of the result obtained from the control unit,” it said.

CEC and other Election Commissioners at the media briefing.

The CEC committed to holding the much anticipated elections to the Jammu & Kashmir assembly immediately after the conclusion of the Lok Sabha elections. Giving reasons for the delay, he informed that the amendment to the J&K Reorganisation Act of 2019 was made as late as in December 2023 to incorporate the changes necessitated by the recommendations of the Delimitation Commission.

Subsequently, during discussions with ECI the entire administrative machinery in the Union Territory opposed holding simultaneous elections on security grounds, and hence it was decided to hold polls in J&K after the conclusion of the Lok Sabha elections, when adequate security forces would be available for deployment, he added.

As per the schedule announced, the elections will be held in seven phases starting from April 19 and ending on June 1. The counting of votes will be on June 4.

The model code of conduct has come into immediate effect.

The CEC said elections to 102 constituencies will take place in first phase, 89 in second, 94 in third, 96 in fourth, 49 in fifth, 57 in sixth and 57 in seventh phase.

Assembly elections in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim will be held on April 19 and in Andhra Pradesh on May 13. Elections to the Odisha Assembly will be held in four phases on May 13, May 20, May 25 and June 1.

Bypolls will also be held for 26 assembly constituencies simultaneously.

The total electorate in the country as per finally published electoral rolls, with reference to 01.01.2024 as the qualifying date: 96.9 Cr (compared to 89.6 Cr in 2019; increase of more than 7.3 Cr electors).

First time electors (in 18-19 years age group): 1.84 Cr (1.89% of total electors; 85.3 lakh among them female electors; more first time electors, who attain eligible age as on 01.04.2024, will be added from among advance applications received)

Young voters (age group 20-29 years): 19.74 Cr

Indian overseas electors: 1,18,439

Services electors: 19,08,194.

Senior Citizen electors above 85 years: 81,87,999

Senior Citizen electors above 100 years: 2,18,442

No. of states with elector sex ratio above 1,000: 12 (meaning greater No. of female electors per 1,000 male electors)

Polling dates for northern states

Uttarakhand: Phase 1: polling date: April 19 (Friday)

Haryana: Phase 6: polling date May 25 (Saturday)

Punjab, Himachal Pradesh & UT Chandigarh: Phase 7: polling date June 1 (Saturday)

Import Of High End EVs To Get Much Cheaper, For 5 Years

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Govt announces new EV Policy to promote local manufacturing; conditional limited period import duty slashed

On the stroke of the announcement of the General Elections in the country, the government has approved its new Electric Vehicle (EV) policy aimed at promoting India as the manufacturing hub of EVs.

Under this policy, import duty on limited number of CKD (completely knocked down) units of EVs of minimum CIF (cost, insurance, freight) value of US $ 35,000 and above per unit has been slashed to 15% for a five year period for automakers who commit to invest a minimum of US $ 500 mln (or Rs 4150 Cr) in setting up new manufacturing facilities in the country and starting commercial production of EVs within a timeline of three years, besides achieving minimum 50% domestic value addition (DVA) or indigenization within five years.

India currently levies a tax of 70% or 100% on imported cars and EVs depending on their value.

Lowering of import duty has been a major demand of Elon Musk’s Tesla and other EV makers like Mercedes Benz, BMW, Aston Matin, etc, which have been keen on participating in the Indian dream of making the country a major global EV manufacturing hub.

“We invite global companies to come to India. I’m confident India will become a global hub for EV manufacturing and this will create jobs and improve trade,” commerce minister Piyush Goyal is learnt to have told reporters at a press briefing after the policy was made public by his ministry.

The move is expected to lower prices of EVs in the Indian markets, while at the same time helping the government’s objective of reducing oil imports, and thereby foreign exchange outflows.

“The objective of the new policy is to “strengthen the EV ecosystem by promoting healthy competition among EV players leading to high volume of production, economies of scale, lower cost of production,” the commerce ministry said.

According to the ministry, a localization of 25% is to be achieved by the EV makers by the third year and 50% by the fifth year.

The duty foregone by the government on imported EVs would be limited to the investment made by the company, or close to $800 million, whichever is lower.

Under the new policy, which is effective immediately, EV imports at a lower tax rate will be allowed for a maximum of five years and the total number will be capped at 8,000 units a year. Carryover of unutilized annual import limits would be permitted.

The investment commitment made by the companies will have to be backed up by a bank guarantees, which will be invoked in case the companies fail to comply with the policy’s mandates, including domestic value addition and minimum investment criteria defined under the scheme guidelines.

‘One Nation, One Election’ Panel Submits Report To The President

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Chairman of the 'One Nation, One Election' committee and former President Ram Nath Kovind presenting the committee's report to President Droupadi Murmu at Rapshtrapati Bhwan on March 14, 2024

 

Recommends Cutting Short Term Of State Assemblies To Synchronize With Lok Sabha Term

A High-Level Committee (HLC), appointed by the Central Government under the chairmanship of former President Ram Nath Kovind, submitted its report on ‘One Nation, One Election’ to President Droupadi Murmu on Thursday (March 14), advocating simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha, state legislative assemblies, and local bodies, while at the same time recommending cutting short the term of state assemblies to synchronise with the term of the Lok Sabha.

In its extensive 18,626-page report, the HLC, tasked with examining the concept of ‘One Nation, One Election’ and propose specific amendments to the Constitution of India, the Representation of the People Act, 1950, the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and other related laws, recommended holding simultaneous elections, citing the burden on various stakeholders such as the government, businesses, workers, courts, political parties, candidates, and civil society.

Considering the complexities involved in such an exercise, the committee suggested a two-step approach – first, hold simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies and second, synchronise the elections to municipalities and panchayats with those of the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies, ensuring that the former are conducted within 100 days of the latter.

Other members of the ‘One Nation, One Election’ committee look on as committee chairman Ram Nath Kovind presents its report to President Droupadi Murmu.

Constitutional amendment

In order to synchronise the terms of the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, the committee has proposed insertion of Article 82A in the Constitution.

All the state assemblies which are constituted in general elections held after this Article is brought into effect (to be called “Appointed Date”) will come to end along with the expiry of the full term of the Lok Sabha.

“For the purpose of synchronisation of elections to the House of the People (Lok Sabha) and state legislative assemblies, the committee recommends that the President of India may, by notification, issued on the date of the first sitting of the House of the People after a General election, bring into force the provision of this Article (Article 82A), and that date of the notification shall be called the “Appointed date”.

“And the tenure of all state legislative assemblies, constituted by elections to the state legislative assemblies after the ‘Appointed Date’, and before the expiry of the full term of the House of the People, shall be only for the period ending up to the subsequent General elections to the House of the People.

“Thereafter, all General elections to the House of the People and all state legislative assemblies shall be held together simultaneously,” the report added.

In an effort to ease the process, an Implementation Group has been recommended to look into the execution of committee’s recommendations.

Taking Article 82A (4) into consideration, if the Election Commission is of the view that the elections to a particular legislative assembly cannot be conducted at the time of the General election, it can recommend to the President to declare, by an order, that the election to that legislative assembly may be conducted at a later date.

The cover of the report

In case of a hung House or a no-confidence motion

In the event of a hung House and a no-confidence motion, fresh elections can be held, but the tenure in that case will only be for the unexpired term, or for the remainder of the full term of five years. The expiry of this period would lead to dissolution of the House.

Among other amendments proposed is introduction of Article 324A to hold simultaneous elections to local bodies. An amendment to Article 325 has also been proposed to enable a single electoral roll and single elector’s photo identity card for this purpose.

Local bodies being in the state list, states would need to ratify these amendments. Such ratification will, however, not be required to hold simultaneous elections to the House of the People and state legislative assemblies.

Need to restore simultaneous elections: The committee noted that there was an urgent need to restore the cycle of simultaneous elections, which was disrupted after the initial decades of India’s independence.

Ramping up deployment of men & machines: The committee has proposed that the Election Commission of India, and State Election Commissions, draw up plans and estimates in advance for logistical arrangements, including the procurement of equipment like EVMs and VVPATs, and deployment of polling personnel and security forces.

A press release issued by the Press Information Bureau claimed that the report of the committee is an outcome of extensive consultations with stakeholders, experts and research work of 191 days, since its constitution on September 2, 2023.

Besides the chairman, the other members of the committee were Union Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Cooperation Amit Shah, former Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, former Finance Commission Chairman NK Singh, former Lok Sabha Secretary General Dr Subhash C Kashyap, senior advocate Harish Salve and former Chief Vigilance Commissioner Sanjay Kothari. Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Ministry of Law and Justice Arjun Ram Meghwal was a special invitee and Dr. Niten Chandra was the secretary of the HLC.

The release further stated that the committee held extensive consultations with different stakeholders, including 47 political parties which also submitted their views and suggestions in writing. Out of these 47 political parties, 32 supported simultaneous elections, it added.

It mentioned that in response to a public notice published in newspapers in all states and Union territories, 21,558 responses were received from citizens, 80% of whom supported simultaneous elections.

Law experts, including four former Chief Justices of India and twelve former Chief Justices of major High Courts, four former Chief Election Commissioners of India, eight State Election Commissioners, and Chairman, Law Commission of India were invited by the committee for interaction in person. Views of the Election Commission of India were also sought.

Apex business organizations like the CII, FICCI, ASSOCHAM and eminent economists were also consulted to present their views on the economic repercussions of asynchronous elections, the release said.

For detailed report click here: onoe.gov.in/HLC-Report

Surprise! Surprise! Loser Eventually Triumphs Victor!

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Ashok Tanwar
Having switched three parties since losing last LS elections as Cong candidate, Dalit leader Ashok Tanwar finds place in BJP’s 2nd list of candidates, replacing his own victor in Sirsa (SC)
Manohar Lal expectedly fielded from Karnal; Anurag Thakur retained in Hamirpur; two former CMs replaced in Uttarakhand

 

The world’s largest political party has shown us that it does not just spring surprises in its choice of candidates for elections, but also delivers shockers while naming chief ministers, deputy chief ministers, etc, before or after the polls, with a view to get the caste balance right based on its understanding of local ground realities.

After one such shock was delivered this week with the sudden and hastily delivered decision to replace Chief Minister Manohar Lal in Haryana with a younger face from a different caste, another shocker comes in BJP’s much anticipated second list of 72 Lok Sabha candidates released on March 13.

Manohar Lal

Considering the latest developments, one could have expected Manohar Lal to be fielded from his home constituency Karnal. But, announcing the name of former state Congress president and dalit face Ashok Tanwar, who joined the party just over a month ago, as the party candidate from Sirsa (SC), replacing incumbent party MP Sunita Duggal, from whom he had lost the previous 2019 elections as Indian National Congress (INC) candidate by a massive margin of over three lakh votes, came as a big shocker to many. It’s a gamble the party has apparently taken as part of its overall strategy of consolidating its non-Jat vote bank in the state.

Ever since Tanwar’s crushing loss to Duggal, his political career has been in a tailspin. Having resigned from the Congress ahead of the state assembly elections in October the same year, and not finding worthwhile opportunities elsewhere, he remained in near hibernation for a couple of years. He became a journeyman, thereafter hopping from one party to another before being netted by the BJP.

Tanwar’s frustration following the long layoff led him to Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee’s doorstep and he was inducted into the party in November 2021 apparently to chase the thought of making a foothold for the party in Haryana. It was never a workable idea, and soon enough he made another shift in April 2022, this time to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which was out scouting for known faces to chase its national convenor Arvind Kejriwal’s dream of making a dent in the electoral scene in his original home state, Haryana.

In a turn of events, AAP aligned with the Congress for contesting the lok sabha elections in Haryana, among other states, and Tanwar, in protest, resigned as Chairman of the state election campaign committee and primary membership of the party in January 2024, only to join the BJP soon after and be rewarded with a party nominations to contest from the same seat from which he had lost badly. In the process his 2019 BJP triumphant slayer became the ultimate sacrificial goat.

The BJP’s 2nd list of 72 party candidates for the Lok Sabha 2024 elections names among other its nominees for six out of the 10 seats in Haryana, 2 out of 4 seats in Himachal Pradesh, and the remaining 2 seats to cover all 5 seats in Uttarakhand. The party had made a clean sweep of all seats in these states in the 2019 elections, and is once again going solo there. For other seats in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh and the 13 seats in Punjab, the wait has only got longer.

The party is awaiting formal sealing of a seat-sharing deal with the Shiromani Akali Dal before announcing its candidates in Punjab.

Trivendra Singh Rawat

In Uttarakhand, having retained incumbent MPs – Union Minister of State for Defence & Tourism Ajay Bhatt (Nainital-Udham Singh Nagar), former Union minister Ajay Tamta (Almora-SC) and Mala Rajya Laxmi Shah from the erstwhile royal family (Tehri Garhwal) – in the first party list of candidates released earlier, in its second list, the party has replaced the incumbents in the remaining two seats.

Anil Baluni

Former state chief minister and former union minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ has made way for another former chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat for the Haridwar seat and former Rajya Sabha member and current party national media in-charge Anil Baluni has replaced former chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat for the Garhwal (Pauri) seat.

Another prominent face in the 2nd list is that of Union minister Anurag Thakur, who gets a chance to represent the Hamirpur seat in Himachal Pradesh for a 5th consecutive term, the first being by way of a by poll in May 2008.

Anurag Thakur

Former Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal has expectedly been fielded from his home constituency Karnal, from where party incumbent Sanjay Bhatia is tipped to be named the next state party chief, replacing Nayab Singh Saini, who took oath as the 11th chief minister of the state a day earlier.

Apart from Karnal and Sirsa (SC) seats, the party has decided to retain incumbent MPs in Haryana – Dharambir Singh (Bhiwani-Mahendragarh), Rao Inderjit Singh (Gurgaon) and Krishan Pal Gurjar (Faridabad). The party candidate for the Ambala (SC) seat will be Banto Kataria, the widow of then incumbent MP Rattan Lal Kataria, who died in the last year of his tenure in 2023. The seat has been lying vacant since then with the Election Commission of India deciding against holding re-election because of the short duration of the tenure left.

In Himachal Pradesh, apart from Anurag Thakur (Hamirpur), the party has also decided to continue with Suresh Kumar Kashyap for the Shimla (reserved-SC) seat.

In Non-Jat Consolidation, BJP Replaces Manohar Lal With OBC Nayab Saini As Haryana CM

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Nayab Singh Saini taking oath as the 11th chief minister of Haryana at the head of a BJP government at a ceremony at the Haryana Raj Bhawan, on March 12, 2024

Move Heralds Split With JJP

In a state where Jats have dominated the politics of power for most part, ever since Haryana was carved out as a separate state from Greater Punjab in November 1966, only two non-Jat Chief Ministers have held their own for multiple full or substantial terms.

The first was the infamous proponent of ‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’ politics Bhajan Lal, who served his first term at the head of a Janta Party (JP) government, and then switched allegiance to the Indian National Congress (INC) to serve another two terms as CM.

The only other non-Jat leader to stand out as chief minister, serving one full term and one nearly full, was Manohar Lal, who not so unexpectedly tendered his resignation along with his entire cabinet to Governor Bandaru Dattatreya on March 12, which was promptly accepted.

The resignation heralded a change in the leadership in the BJP-led government in the state, on the stroke of the announcement of the Lok Sabha elections, and months before the state assembly elections become due. BJP had won all 10 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections, though its sitting MP from Hisar Bijendra Singh recently resigned from the party to join the Congress. He simultaneously resigned from his Lok Sabha seat.

The decision to replace Manohar Lal, who could not shed the public perception of anti-incumbency sentiment against his government, was at most hastened with the parting of ways between the BJP and its post-poll alliance partner in the government since 2019, the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP). Though both parties are attributing the split to disagreement over seat sharing in the Lok Sabha elections, this is apparently not the whole truth.

The signs of the imminent break from JJP were quite evident when Nayab Singh Saini from the other backward classes (OBC) community, who took oath as chief minister after being promptly chosen as its leader by the state BJP legislative party, earlier replaced a Jat leader Om Prakash Dhankar as the state BJP chief in October 2023, as part of the social engineering strategy of the party.

Dhankar, who was made state party chief in July 2020, months after the party took the support of the predominantly Jat supported JJP to retain power in the state for a second term,  with the purpose of striking a balance between the Jat and non-Jat communities, apparently did not succeed in his mission.

The party has never had any worthwhile connect with the Jats, and the prolonged and unsavoury confrontation between the BJP-led central government and the farmers, including from Haryana (predominantly Jats), leading up to the government’s humiliating withdrawal of the new farm laws, made the party’s relationship with the Jats even worse.

With the woo-Jats mission an abject failure, the party was forced to fall back on consolidating its vote bank among the non-Jat communities, including upper castes, Aggarwal community, Punjabis, SCs and OBCs, who make up roughly ¾th of the total population.

And to divide the Jat votes it was important for the BJP to let go off the JJP, which, along with its much depleted previous parent party Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), still has the capacity to cut into the Jat vote bank of the principal opposition party, the Congress, which has of late found greater traction among the Jats especially after the renewed farmers’ agitation.

The BJP’s choice of an OBC as Chief Minister is a very important part of its operation ‘Non-Jat Vote Bank consolidation’. It also does not ruffle Manohar Lal’s feathers since Nayab Singh Saini is considered to be his own protégé.

The former chief minister is known to have been instrumental in shaping Nayab Singh Saini’s political career right from becoming an MLA, and then minister of state in Manohar Lal’s council of ministers during his first term, member of Parliament from Kurukshetra (he holds the position till date, but will have to resign soon) and state party chief.

Even in being chosen as its leader by the BJP legislative party, Nayab Singh Saini had the blessings of Manohar Lal and the former acknowledged this by touching the latter’s feet before taking oath as chief minister of Haryana.

In facilitating a smooth transition, Manohar Lal’s stature in the party as a stalwart from Haryana appears to have risen further. It is almost certain that the party has set him free from the responsibilities as chief minister to strengthen the hands of the party in the Lok Sabha elections. The party would like to field its strongest leaders as Lok Sabha candidates and Manohar Lal could be one of them. He will also be among the party’s star campaigners across the state, and probably beyond.

Coming back to the swearing-in ceremony, Nayab Singh Saini took oath of allegiance along with five ministers, all retained from the Manohar Lal cabinet – Kanwar Pal, Mool Chand Sharma, Jai Parkash Dalal, Banwari Lal (all BJP) and Ranjit Singh Chautala (independent MLA).

There was speculation that one of more deputy chief ministers might be named, representing other major communities, as BJP has done in other states in recent times, but it was not to be, at least for the time being.

Among the first tasks before the state BJP leadership will be to placate previous senior cabinet minister Anil Vij, who apparently did not hide his displeasure at the turn of events and left the legislative party meeting in a huff. He also did not turn up at the swearing-in ceremony at the Haryana Raj Bhawan later in the day despite his name learnt to have been included in the initial list of ministers to take oath.

The BJP is quite confident of having the numbers, even without the JJP, to win a trust vote in the House. It has 41 members in the House of 90 and needs 46 for a majority. It claims to have the support of seven others, including independents.

Saini said he had handed over letters of support from 48 MLAs to the Governor while staking his claim to form the government. He was accompanied to the Raj Bhawan by the two central party observors Union minister Arjun Munda and party general secretary Tarun Chugh, besides Manohar Lal and central party in-charge for Haryana and former Tripura chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb.

In any case, with just a few months left for elections to the state assembly to be announced, there is unlikely to be any attempt by the opposition to pull down the government.

Punjab Set To Open 3 Wetlands To Eco Tourism

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Picture credits: Gitanjali Kanwar/WWF-India

Wetlands, in which water covers the soil, or is present near the surface, all year, or for varying periods during the year, are vital for human survival. They provide the water and productivity on which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival. To humanity they provide ecosystem services, like freshwater supply, food and building materials, flood control, groundwater recharge, and climate change mitigation.

Ramsar, the international convention on wetlands, says that study after study has demonstrated that the area and quality of wetlands continue to decline in most regions of the world. As a result, the ecosystem services that wetlands provide to people are being compromised.

Punjab too has its fair share of wetlands, and various initiatives are taken from time to time to develop and preserve these wetlands for posterity. In one such initiative, the state government has drawn up an ambitious plan to promote nature/eco tourism in three of its wetlands, two of which are declared Ramsar sites, meaning that they hold international importance.

Meeting of the Punjab State Wetlands Authority, presided over by Forest and Wildlife Preservation Minister Lal Chand Kataruchak

LifeInChandigarh.com has learnt through authoritative sources that the plan was finalised in a recent meeting of the Punjab State Wetlands Authority, presided over by Forest and Wildlife Preservation Minister Lal Chand Kataruchak. After its approval by the state finance department, a cabinet note has been prepared. It is likely to be taken up for consideration by the state cabinet led by Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann.

The sources were quick to point out that the tourism initiative, involving Harike Wetland, Beas River Conservation Reserve (both of which are declared Ramsar sites) and Ranjit Sagar Wetland, will not be open to commercial tourism. It will remain strictly confined to nature/ecology lovers from across the country and abroad, so that while appreciating the flora and fauna, the fragile eco systems of these sites are not compromised.

It is not a revenue generating exercise for the state government, but rather an effort to create additional income sources for the local communities around these wetland sites.

The plan involves construction and establishment of cottages, eco lodges or dormitories for the accommodation of nature/eco tourists with dining, kitchen and toilet facilities. Also, audio visual facilities, dioramas (replicas of scenes, typically 3-dimentional), and other digital and interactive facilities will be provided in existing tourism infrastructure.

Besides, the plan involves construction of bird shelters and watch towers, providing facilities like drinking water supply, waste disposal and sanitation facilities for tourists. Transportation facilities like battery operated vehicles, bicycles and e-rickshaws will also be available for tourists. There will be a sizable presence of signages and boards for awareness generation in the designated tourism zones.

As part of the plan, training will also be imparted to locals to act as nature guides or boatmen, or to become bird watchers.

In this project, the Punjab State Wetlands Authority is working closely with a technical committee, the district wetland committees and knowledge partners like WWF-India. Consultants will be hired as and when required. It will be executed by the Punjab Department of Forests and Wildlife Preservation, District Wetland Committees and other stakeholder departments like Water Resources, Fisheries, Agriculture, Soil, etc. External stakeholders, like subject experts or people with required technology, may also be involved.

Timelines for execution of this plan will be decided once the budget is finally approved by the state cabinet.

About the wetlands

 Harike Wetland

Also known as “Hari-ke-Pattan”, with the Harike Lake in the deeper part of it, is the largest wetland in northern India. It is a riverine wetland located on the confluence of Sutlej and Beas rivers and spread over three districts of Punjab – Ferozepur, Kapurthala and Tarn Taran. It was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1999, and a Ramsar site in 1990.

The wetland and the lake were formed following the construction of head works across the Sutlej River in 1953. The rich biodiversity of the wetland, which plays a vital role in maintaining the precious hydrological balance in the catchment, is said to attract one of the largest concentration of winter migratory birds, including a number of globally threatened species, in northern India.

Beas River Conservation Reserve

It is a 185 km long riverine stretch of Beas River flowing through six districts of Punjab –   Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur, Kapurthala, Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Ferozepur – declared a conservation reserve in 2017, and a Ramsar site in 2019.

The main channel of the river is broad, dotted with islands, sand bars, braids and wide pools. The average depth of the river varies from about 1.5 m during the dry season to about 4.5 m during the rainy season.

The Beas Conservation Reserve hosts the only population of Indus river dolphins in India. The smooth-coated otter is another rare and important species found in the waters of the Beas.

The gharials, also known as gavial or fish-eating crocodiles, were another attraction of the river before they became extinct somewhere in the 1960s. A gharial re-introduction programme was initiated in 2017, under which 100-odd gharials were released in the reserve. Since gharials are known to typically have a breeding cycle of 10-11 years, the success of the efforts to repopulate them will be known in another 3-4 years time.

The terrestrial fauna of the Beas includes hog deer, blue bull and wild pig.

The River Beas provides vital habitats for more than 500 species of birds and is a particularly important staging area for both summer and winter migratory water birds.

The river supports species of freshwater turtles like Indian softshell turtle, Indian flapshell turtle, narrow-headed softshell turtle, spotted pond turtle, crowned river turtle and brown roofed turtle.

Harike and Beas conservation reserve together support more than 90 fish species.

Ranjit Sagar Dam Conservation Reserve

Spread over 4560 acres of land, it is a riverine wetland located on Ravi river in Pathankot district of the state and is part of a hydroelectric project. This wetland was declared a conservation reserve in 2017 and forms the border with the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh and Union territory of Jammu & Kashmir. A large portion, up to 60% of the reservoir, falls within Jammu and Kashmir.

Some 48-odd different varieties of migratory birds can be seen inside and outside the reserve area. One can also spot insects, snakes, jackals, hare, mongoose, leopard, porcupine, pangolin and wild cats in marshy areas. Besides, there are resident birds like red jungle fowl, large Indian parakeet, Indian cuckoo, bank myna, wood shrike, yellow-eyed babbler, crested bunting and peafowl.