Badal faces embarrassment as EC cracks whip

CHANDIGARH, DEC. 22. The Punjab Chief Minister, Mr. Parkash Singh Badal, was in for a major embarrassment when the Election Commission came down heavily on his administration, especially in his own constituency, Lambi. The District Transport Officer (DTO), who is designated to be the assistant returning officer for the seat, was ordered to be suspended immediately.

The Election Commission also ordered the transfer of the Deputy Commissioner of the Muktsar district under which Lambi falls. The EC has sought a charge-sheet from the State Government against both the officers against whom, it is said, there is a `prima facie' case of large-scale irregularities in preparation and revision of electoral rolls.

The local Congress unit, led by the former Punjab Minister, Mr. Gurnam Singh Abulkhurana, has been complaining about the two officers, who were said to have enjoyed patronage of the Chief Minister and the ruling party.

Reports indicated that the Chief Minister had personally taken up the case of absorbing the Muktsar district Deputy Commissioner, Mr. K. J. S. Cheema, into the State cadre, as he is currently on deputation, from West Bengal.

The other officers who faced action from the Election Commission included the SDM and Executive Magistrate of Tarn Taran who were ordered to be transferred on similar charges. The Commission has also ordered probe into allegations against the SDM at Bhulath, a constituency represented by former president of the SGPC, Bibi Jagir Kaur, the reports indicated.

While the Commission has asked the State Government, through the Chief Secretary, to send a compliance report by December 28, it has directed that prior clearance be sought while making substitutions.

Party workers throng Badal's house

Hordes of party workers from Muktsar, Faridkot and Moga districts of Punjab are thronging the residence of the Chief Minister, Mr. Parkash Singh Badal, since he returned from Delhi after treatment for a thigh bone fracture.

While workers from Faridkot and Moga districts met him on Thursday, an unprecedented crowd of workers turned up from Muktsar on Friday. These three districts constitute the Faridkot Lok Sabha constituency, which has been represented by Mr. Sukhbir Singh, the only son of Mr. Badal, twice in the Lok Sabha. Lambi and Gidderbaha Assembly seats, represented by Mr. Badal and his nephew Mr. Manpreet Singh respectively, fall under Muktsar district.

While assuring Mr. Badal of their votes they wanted to know whether the numbers would be sufficient for a comfortable victory? Similar questions would be rankling Mr. Badal's mind, when doctors force him to take time off from work.

It was yet another opportunity for the people who jostled with each other to hand over yet another request or reminder on some previous `unfulfilled task or promise' as they did when Mr. Badal went to visit them.

These meetings assume significance in the backdrop of Mr. Badal facing flak from his political opponents and critics prior to the 1999 Lok Sabha polls when the Akali-BJP combine was routed. He was then accused of ignoring the entire State to assume the role of playing Chief Minister for Faridkot Lok Sabha seat only and being `blinded' by the political prospects of his son.

His leg injury has led to some anxiety as it has come at a time when the party was preparing for the Assembly polls due in February. This led to a series of meetings between Mr. Badal and Akali workers from different districts, while the second rung leadership began organising district-level rallies to mobilise the party rank and file.

Ever since he came to power in 1997, Mr. Badal has been concentrating on accelerating the development process in these three districts, which though being the hub of political activity, remained underdeveloped so far.

Deviating from his usual political refrain, Mr. Badal preferred to strike an emotional chord with the people from these districts in the Malwa heartland. But when the turn came to interact with people from Muktsar, his son and nephew too pitched in.

They appealed to the workers to accept the responsibility of campaigning in the four constituencies under Muktsar district so that Mr. Badal was free to take on the challenge in the remaining parts of the State.