'House' politics dominates in Punjab (Punjab Newsletter)
It may not be a leaf from V.S. Naipaul's "A House for Mr. Biswas", but another drama is being enacted in Punjab's political circles over a sprawling bungalow in an upscale and high-security zone of Chandigarh.
The issue revolves round the allotment of the government bungalow to Punjab's new Leader of Opposition Sunil Jakhar of the Congress. Jakhar has been holding the position for over six months now, but he is unable to move into the bungalow allotted to him in Sector 2, as his party colleague Rajinder Kaur Bhattal has refused to vacate it. Jakhar, the son of former Lok Sabha speaker and union minister Balram Jakhar, continues to live in his private house in Haryana's Panchkula town, 15 km from here.
Bungalow No. 46 in Sector 2 has Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and other VIPs as its neighbours. Bhattal, who was Punjab chief minister in 1996-97 and deputy chief minister 2002-07, has been living in the house for nearly two decades now. She continued to live in 2007-12, being the leader of opposition in the assembly.
She was not re-appointed after the assembly was reconstituted following the January elections, the results for which were announced in March and in which the Congress failed to oust the ruling Akali Dali-BJP combine.
Citing security issues, Bhattal has refused to vacate the bungalow - which has a swimming pool, luxury facilities and high security - for the new incumbent despite the state government serving notice asking her to move. The penal rent that she has to pay for over-staying has mounted to Rs 68 lakh but that has also not compelled her to vacate.
The fight over the house has not only got the two top Congress leaders involved but also the Punjab government and even Governor Shivraj Patil.
Faced with a situation where Bhattal has refused to vacate, Jakhar approached Patil for another house. Being the administrator of Chandigarh, Patil got house No. 500 in Sector 16 allotted to him. Thus, Jakhar now has two houses allotted to him in Chandigarh.
However, he is still unable to move even into the second house because it was vandalised, allegedly by officials of the Punjab Police Housing Corporation a few days ago.
The story behind the vandalism is that the house was occupied by previous Punjab director general of police P.S. Gill. The police corporation and the Chandigarh administration had spent a whopping Rs.1.2 crore renovating the house to make it "liveable" for Gill. However, when he finally vacated the house, several months after his retirement, the fittings were removed, allegedly by the police corporation officials.
Thus, Jakhar has not shown any inclination of moving into the house. He has reportedly asked the Punjab government to get the Sector 2 house vacated for him.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at email@example.com)