It's a type of notice which the Badals never wanted: the spotlight on their vast business empire.
The ruling family of Punjab — Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal — are already battling anti-incumbency in the state, which will go to the polls in early 2017.
In the middle of it came the Moga incident, in which a 13-year-old girl died after being thrown off the bus by her molesters. The bus belonged to the Orbit Aviation Private Limited, owned by the Badals.
Congress leaders and party supporters demonstrate in Moga district against the lawlessness in the state
In no time the Opposition parties galvanised and the cloud of trouble loomed over the Badals. Questions were raised one more time about their businesses — transport, media, hospitality and more, with allegations that the ruling family also has its hands in the tills of liquor cartels, the sand mafia and even the drug smugglers.
And with that, the Badals and the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine have been pushed onto the back foot.
It’s long been alleged that the Badals have been misusing their powers to promote their business interests in Punjab and even beyond.
While Sukhbir Singh Badal has tried to shrug off the allegation of conflict of interests, rival parties are in no mood to let the Badals go scot-free.
Congress members protest outside the Badal residence in Chandigarh
Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal with the family members of the Moga molestation victim
Added to that is the growing public ire, and the Badals fear this will not augur well for them in the next Assembly elections.
Observers here point out that if the Badals lose out and the Congress comes back to power, that will certainly adversely impact on the business empire that the father-son duo and their relatives have built.
In 2003, when the Congress defeated the Shiromani Akali Dal and came back to power in Punjab, a case of disproportionate assets was slapped against Parkash Singh Badal and he was even arrested for a brief period.
The Badals fear a repetition of history and that’s why they are scrambling to control the damage that has been done by the Moga incident.
Sukhbir Singh Badal announced a compensation for the victim’s family, besides a government job. When that didn’t cut the ice and the opposition parties upped the ante, the Badals were forced to take the Orbit Aviation buses off the road.
The Orbit Aviation is losing about Rs 80 lakh every day because of this, but the ruling family knows that much more is at stake right now.
Facing the heat over the Moga incident, it has announced that there will be an overhaul of the Orbit buses. A sensitising programme for the staff, CCTV cameras in the buses, no tinted glass and fewer staff are some of the decisions that have been announced to fire-fight the situation.
But it remains to be seen whether these measures will help the ruling dispensation at all.
There have also been allegations that the Badal government has failed to take effective action against the drug smugglers. On several occasions it was alleged the some ministers in the state government are hand-in-glove with the drug smugglers.
Rival parties have long been using this issue to target the Badals.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi targeted the state government on this, saying “seven out of 10 Punjabi youth have drug problem”. The Badals even faced harsh words on this issue from their ally the BJP.
Sukhbir Singh Badal tried to deflect all of it by saying no drugs were being produced in the state, and slammed Rahul Gandhi for defaming “brave Punjabis”.
The reality, though, is bleak. The Punjab and Haryana High Court slammed the government for its inept handling of the drug menace that is ruining the lives of thousands of youngsters in the state.
While deciding the bail plea in a case under the NDPS Act, Justice Rameshwar Singh Malik said the police officials are weakening the cases under the Act by not filing the challans within the stipulated period.
The court observed: “The state cannot ignore its constitutional obligation in this regard and become a silent spectator. This is wholly unwarranted situation created at the hands of the state… It has become a vicious circle… It is very much avoidable, of course. But the will to do is required to achieve this objective, which is conspicuously missing.”
Amid all this, the Badals are trying to wriggle out. Clearly on a back foot, the father-son duo will certainly pull out all stops to win back the Punjab electorate. But will they be successful? We have to wait till 2017.
Opposition targets Badals in House
By Amit Agnihotri in New Delhi
Congress MP Captain Amarinder Singh and his party members address the media
The Badals embarrassed the NDA on Tuesday when a united Opposition demanded the sacking of the Akali-BJP government in Punjab over the death of a teenage girl in Moga.
Congress member Ambika Soni raised the issue in Rajya Sabha, demanding dismissal of the Punjab government.
“The situation in Punjab now merits the direct intervention of the Central government,” said Soni.
When Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien reminded the Congress members that they had not given a proper notice, Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad pleaded with the chair, saying the matter needed to be discussed.
“If a bus run by the rulers does this, then what will happen to the common man? We want to know if an FIR has been lodged against the owners,” said Azad.
“Given the importance of the incident, please allow us to discuss and waive the need for a notice,” CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said.
In the Lok Sabha, Captain Amarinder Singh moved an adjournment motion, seeking discussion on the collapse of law and order in Punjab. Most Akali ministers are involved and are being investigated in serious crimes, he added.
Court summons Sukhbir in two-year-old accident case
By Manjeet Sehgal in Chandigarh
While at one hand the Punjab and Haryana High Court bench refused to hear the Moga molestation case, a Fatehgarh court has summoned Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal in a two-year-old accident case involving the bus owned by his company Orbit Aviation.
“The Fatehgarh Court has summoned Orbit Aviation MD Sukhbir Singh Badal and the bus driver Kulwant Singh. Sukhbir has been summoned for the victim’s compensation claim whereas the driver has been summoned for the accident. They have been asked to appear before the court on July 2,” said Jasvinder Singh Grewal, Counsel of Hardev Singh.
Punjab Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal meets Moga molestation victim’s family in the civil hospital
The case dates back to January 31, 2013 when victim Hardev Singh’s car was hit by an Orbit Aviation bus.
The victim suffered multiple fractures and walks with the support of a stick even two years after the accident.
Initially, the victim had to run from pillar to post to register a case against the erring bus, but as the case involved the Badals, Fatehgarh police removed the name of Orbit Aviation from the challan that was presented before the court.
“My car was hit by an Orbit bus on January 31, 2013. The accident handicapped me and I cannot walk without a stick now. The Fatehgarh police were initially reluctant of registering a case and after doing so when the challan was presented in the court the onus was put on a truck to save the bus staff,” Hardev Singh said.
Meanwhile, Sukhbir Singh Badal met the family members of the Moga molestation victim and expressed grief over the incident.
Promising the family exemplary punishment for the culprits, Badal said the Punjab government was with the aggrieved family.