PERSPECTIVE
AMARINDER, BADALS, KHAIRA, AROOSA ALAM & A JOURNALIST OF TRIBUNE
Suhaani sham dhal chukki — Of samosas on 20th, five-star parties on 32nd, viral videos now!
- S Pal
Suhaani sham dhal chukki — Of samosas on 20th, five-star parties on 32nd, viral videos now!



WHEN THE LEADER of the Opposition in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha demands the resignation of the chief minister for the first time since the Congress government came into power, and makes allegations as sensational as sheltering a possibly Pakistani spy in the CM residence, there are two different scenarios you expect in next day’s media coverage.

A. Front pages of newspapers exploding with the sensational story. A lot of back stories detailing the life and career of the alleged Pakistani spy. The linkages of the chief minister with such a person. The presence or absence of links of others in the ruling party with the said person.

B. In another scenario, next day’s media might be full of scathing commentary on the conduct of the Leader of the Opposition. It may talk about the utter ridiculousness of the allegations or his proclivity to tilt at the windmills. Someone may point out the entrenched patriarchal values he carries of a man who cannot gulp a deep bond of friendship between two adults with enough decades of life experience behind them. Some might say he is incapable of fathoming that a group of grownups could be enjoying a melodious song and a drink in the confines of a friend’s house, and it may not be such a sinful activity.

I hold no brief for either of the scenarios, and in a robust democracy, one often sees both scenarios being played up simultaneously. What scares me is the scenario that actually happened: some of the region’s leading mass circulation newspapers fell completely silent and chose to ignore the story.

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Unbeknown to her, Aroosa Alam has become a subject of debate in the corridors of power, social get togethers hosted by leaders of all political parties, the press room on the second floor of Punjab Civil Secretariat, and hacks’ daaru-parties.
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Everybody and his uncle (or friend, Hindustani or Pakistani), knows such blackout of the story in sections of the media was not the result of any editorial judgement. Instead, it denotes a sense of fear in newsrooms where those wielding the blue pencil prefer to step back and stay safe.

When the Leader of the Opposition makes a serious allegation — even if it is of the ‘I saw men from Mars taking away a farmer from Bhucho Mandi’ variety — it is eminently reportable. You can grill him on coals, but how can the media not report?

Punjab’s chattering classes are not the only ones indulging in salacious gossip about Aroosa Alam. Unbeknown to her, Alam has been a subject of debate in the corridors of power, social get-togethers hosted by leaders of all political parties, the press room on the second floor of Punjab Civil Secretariat where I have seen even peons and attendants expressing a view or two on the subject, and hacks’ daaru-parties all the time. Now, hers is a name known well to even Bharti Kisan Union’s second rung leaders and government primary school teachers.

(I know this because someone who is both, a second rung leader of the BKU and a primary school teacher, called me aside at a function last fortnight and asked me if he should meet Alam with a delegation to present some demands. "No one else is listening. She, at least, has the power,” he reasoned.)

Informed and engaged citizens anywhere, including readers of Punjab Today, have developed an innate skill—they remain in the know of things and yet remain aloof. They amusedly watch such news cycles ebb and flow as a controversy like this explodes, or dies down. In a region where most men above 40 do not have a single woman as their friend, and most women above 40 do not have a single man they can call to plan a movie outing, such salacious gossip gets a little more playtime in the media than it deserves. (You have to be married to the man or woman you want to go watch a movie with. Believe me, it’s almost a rule! And do not push your luck arguing, unless you want some cleric to issue an edict on it!) 
 

Aroosa Alam is not the subject of this piece. Yes, sincerely. Not even after all the above paragraphs I punched. 

I am on a different point. And it is about what date on which you choose to have a party.

It’s all about the date. Date, as in a calendar. 

But before I go any further, allow me a flashback.  
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"Badal Sahib, jee ikk chotta jiha sawaal hai, je ijaazat hove tan?” Wow, politeness galore! This was a turbaned journo from the Indian Express. Everyone was all ears. I was standing next to Parwana ji. "Eh munda hamesha panga karda hai koyee na koyee,” Parwana ji whispered in my ear. Everyone was attentive by now.
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It was 2004. Prakash Singh Badal was the Chief Minister of Punjab. Sukhbir Singh Badal was a recently baptised Akali leader. Gurcharan Singh Tohra had died a couple of months earlier. A year had passed since Tohra and Badal had savoured ladoos at the house of Harmail Singh Tohra to announce panthic unity. On July 11, 2004 was scheduled the SGPC election, the first after Tohra’s death. 

It was June 6, 2004, to be precise. Prakash Singh Badal had issued the first list of SGPC candidates on June 5. On June 6, he called a press conference at his official residence in Sector 2 of Chandigarh. I had come from Delhi and was visiting a journalist friend. On that fateful day of June 6, I tagged along with my friend and attended this press conference where Badal issued the list of remaining candidates for the July 11 election to SGPC.

Some of the top names among Chandigarh’s press corps were there at the press conference. I particularly remember one N S Parwana, who, I was told, had spent decades covering the CMO. Harcharan Bains was handing out printouts of a two-page press release that also had names of the SAD nominees. Some perfunctory questions later, journalists realised they were getting late for the office, and the ever so mild mannered CM Badal apologised for having called scribes at this late hour. "Tuhanoo taqleef ditti,” he said. I was touched by the politeness in politicos-hacks relationship in Punjab. 

Suddenly my attention was drawn to a lone voice from among the media crowd - "Badal Sahib, jee ikk chotta jiha sawaal hai, je ijaazat hove tan?” Wow, politeness galore! This was a turbaned journo from the Indian Express. Everyone was all ears. I was standing next to Parwana ji. "Eh munda hamesha panga karda hai koyee na koyee,” Parwana ji whispered in my ear. Everyone was paying attention by now.

"Jee, ajj June 6, Operation Bluestar di veehvin (20th) anniversary utte, Akali Dal de pardhan da patarkaran nu ghar bula ke chah, samose te gulab jamun khawaun ton bina koyee hor vee program hai? Kyon ke shaam tan pai hee gayee hai, din beet chaliya hai. Koyee hor vee program hai, ajj da?”

<<Trans: On this June 6th, today, the 20th anniversary of Op Bluestar, does the Akali Dal president have any other engagement in his day schedule except for calling journalists home and offering them sweet delicacies, since it is already late evening? Is there any other engagement scheduled?>>

"Lo, pa ditta panga!” Parwana ji said, a samosa in his hand, and me holding the plate for his benefit. 

"Phir jee na kariye soochi jaari umeedvaran di?” a piqued Badal asked the young journalist. Bains explained that it was the last day and filing of nomination papers was to begin the next day.  
 

I had re-adjusted my ideas about levels of politeness in journo-politician relationship in Punjab. Parwana ji had finished the samosa and was now having tea. I told him I was happy someone does some "panga”. He didn’t seem pleased. I returned to Delhi the next day, and have often thought why wasn’t Badal prepared to handle the most expected question. 

I am a dumb guy in many ways, the kind they call ‘tubelight’. Last week, the answer flashed. I was in Jalandhar, watching Sukhpal Singh Khaira slamming Amarinder Singh at the local press club. Khaira was raising hell about Aroosa Alam, and questioning why Amarinder Singh was having a daaru-party and a fun evening when Sikhs everywhere in the world were in mourning, observing the Shaheedi days of the Tenth Sikh Master’s Sahibzadas. 

After the press conference ended, I asked Sukhpal why did he think Amarinder could afford to be so blasé? "Because he does not expect anyone to question it,” Khaira said.

Till Khaira spoke, even the media had not questioned it.

Till date, the opposition Shiromani Akali Dal has not questioned it. 

I mean the date, not the fact that Amarinder Singh was with Aroosa Alam and other guests. Date. It is the day on which he was holding this party which should concern us all.

A journalist from a major media house based in the town told me after the presser, "Saade tan chhapni nahi (It won’t be published in our paper).” I was shocked. Next day, his newspaper did not even mention the story. Neither did The Tribune, or the Hindustan Times, or The Times of India, or Jagbani or many others. The Indian Express, Punjabi Tribune, Ajit and a few others were honourable exceptions.

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We were in the lobby of the Ramada Hotel, located on the Chandigarh-Punjab border on NH22, when he casually mentioned that he had last come here to see Aroosa Alam! "Aroosa Alam?” I spoke a little too loudly for the plush environs and shushed silence of the five star hotel’s lobby.
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But I might not have written about all of this if I had not run this week into a stringer of a local newspaper in Chandigarh, a chap I often stay with during my visits to Chandigarh. We were in the lobby of the Ramada Hotel, located on the Chandigarh-Punjab border on NH22, when he casually mentioned that he had last come to the foyer of Ramada to see Aroosa Alam!

"Aroosa Alam?” I spoke a little too loudly for the plush environs and shushed silence of the five star hotel’s lobby.

He said a year ago local journalists, after being tipped off that Amarinder was partying with some friends, including Alam, at this hotel, had all converged here. "Lal Singh, Rana Gurmit Sodhi and Kewal Singh Dhillon came down and met the journalists. Hans Raj Hans was also there. Amarinder also came and met the scribes. They said they were all here with their families, having a private party, and Amarinder Singh’s friends denied Alam was there at all,” he recalled, and then added, "But Alam was there.”

"Really? How did you know? Did you guys file a story?” 

"Yes, most of us did. Punjabi Tribune carried the story in a big way,” he said. He did not remember the exact day, but hotel staff is always helpful if you speak nicely to them. We soon knew what day it was, and searched for the Punjabi Tribune’s file for the month. There it was — the claim by the Punjabi Tribune’s journalist, in black and white: "Amarinder Singh’s friends denied Aroosa Alam was there but this journalist saw Aroosa Alam herself in the hotel that night.”

Interesting stuff! No, not that Aroosa Alam was present in the hotel in Zirakpur. Not that the journalist claimed he saw Alam himself when Amarinder’s lieutenants denied it. None of that is so interesting. 

As I have said consistently and repeatedly — what is important is the date.


The Punjabi Tribune edition we were reading was dated June 7, 2016. The party was on the night of June 6, 2016. The anniversary of Operation Bluestar. The 32nd anniversary.

The Akali Dal did not issue even a simple press release to point out this even when it was bitterly fighting Amarinder Singh, with Punjab Assembly elections just months away. I am not sure how Akali leaders observed it, but they knew how Amarinder and his friends marked June 6, 2016 — with a party at a five star hotel. 

Ladoos at home on 20th anniversary of Operation Bluestar, five star hotel parties on 32nd anniversary of Op Bluestar, clinking glasses to the tune of suhaani raat dhal chuki, na jaane tum kab aaoge on Shaheedi gurpurabs. They don’t expect you to question. About four years ago, I had met Rashtriya Sikh Sangat’s Avtar Singh Shastri in Delhi. While planning a celebratory event, he advised his associates not to schedule it in June. "Dukh bhariya maheena hunda hai Operation Bluestar wala, July vich kar lavo,” he was saying. He was being careful, because he expected to be questioned.

Suhaani raat dhal chuki is a 1949 song. Rafi was singing it in a country that had still to become a republic. Sometimes I wonder if it still is, but savouring sweets and having gala parties on days of mourning was never the culture of this region.

They do it because they do not expect anyone to question it. At times I miss that fellow at Badal’s house. Someone should be there to do some "panga.” Make it your New Year resolution – take it upon yourselves to do the "panga.” NS Parwana is a nice man, he’ll understand. 
 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

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