Chandigarh: The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have ushered in a major makeover of Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
The biggest criticism of the chief minister — both in his first term (2002-2007) and second (2017 onward) — has been that he remains completely out of reach, not just for the people but also for his own party men.
But in the wake of the pandemic, Singh has been making efforts to shed his image of an “inaccessible Maharaja” and become a leader who is approachable, with his ears to the ground.
While his ‘social distancing’ from his party men might still be continuing due to the pandemic, the chief minister has made himself available to the people through a weekly #AskCaptain question-answer session, which is broadcast live on social media every Saturday. The initiative started in the first week of May.
Last week, the session entered its 12th edition and the number of questions the chief minister’s office is clocking every week is now running into thousands.
Singh also announces important decisions of his government during the sessions, and also responds to the questions or suggestions received as comments.
In the last week’s session, he announced that no admission and tuition fees will be charged from students studying in government schools for this session.
He also ordered the sports department to come up with a policy for providing jobs to the winners of special Olympics on the lines of Paralympics winners when a former player described his woes.
I sincerely appreciate the directive of Hon'ble CM @capt_amarinder Ji, for #Punjab to have new policy drafted for the winners of special Olympic on the same lines as #ParaOlympics. My department will actively initiate on this welcoming proposal to benefit our sportsperson. pic.twitter.com/9OCWhfI8yT
— Rana Gurmit S Sodhi (@iranasodhi) July 25, 2020
Also read: This Punjab district was Covid-free for 28 days. Then one truck driver entered
About the session
On Wednesdays mostly, a post goes out on the CM’s Facebook page, asking people to post their questions/suggestions/feedback.
“About 2,000 comments are received (usually), which are then sorted and labelled by our team. Mostly the topics on which a large number of people comment are selected, but in special cases unique issues are also included,” said Nirvan Singh, the CM’s grandson, who handles his social media.
Every Saturday, the session goes live on all the social media platforms of the chief minister, the Punjab government and the Congress. The session is also telecast by news channels.
“Each episode of #AskCaptain live session has received a better response than the previous one. On an average, an episode gets 15 lakh views and reaches about 50 lakh people,” added Nirvan.
The CM has responded to 270 questions during these sessions so far.
Solved people’s woes
The weekly session has been keeping the CM and his team on their toes.
“The questions are received in advance and we make sure he is prepared with the answers. Teams around him work round-the-clock to gather information on time. He then sits down with his team of officers to discuss the best solution possible to the problems that have been highlighted,” said an official in the CMO, who didn’t want to be named.
In episode two, which was broadcast in mid-May, a woman named Ashima Tuli reached out to the CM on his Twitter handle and expressed her desire to come back to India from Canada due to a family emergency. She had applied under the central government’s Vande Bharat Mission, but was not getting any response.
The CM, however, made sure she received her ticket back to India.
Hey Thankyousomuch. I recieved the ticket. I am very thankful. Thank you to all the team. @Ajaybis @IndiainToronto @capt_amarinder @airindiain https://t.co/XIvp7IRP4Z
— Ashima Tuli (@TuliAshima) May 25, 2020
“The idea of #AskCaptain came from the chief minister addressing the people through video messages about the lockdown decisions once or twice a month. People would respond with queries and complaints hoping to be heard. It was decided then to go beyond Covid and interact with the people directly,” added the official.
In one of the episodes, the CM was informed that an old woman from Ludhiana, suffering from tuberculosis, had requested for government help. The CM then directed the Ludhiana deputy commissioner to ensure that she gets treated for TB, is able to pay her rent and also take care of her grandchildren’s education.
In one of the episodes, the CM also gave in-principle approval to increase the recruitment age of deputy superintendents of police and sub-inspectors from 28 years to 32 years in line with the central norms after a viewer flagged the issue.
In another episode, a Sangrur resident pointed out that a CT scan machine at a government hospital was not operational, and the CM immediately ordered for its repair.
The CM also promised that not a single tree would be cut from a forest in Mattewara, Ludhiana, to set up an industrial park after several questions were received in this regard.
Also read: Punjab CM Amarinder Singh accuses Centre of failing to help states amid Covid-19 crisis