Captain Amarinder Singh, the former Chief Minister of Punjab and ex-veteran Congress leader, ruffled several feathers recently after he claimed he was starting his own party and that he would be contesting the upcoming elections next year from the same seat as his nemesis, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Singh has previously publicly slammed the Congres for "humiliating" him and called Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra "inexperienced". Amidst talk about Singh's future plans and speculation over a possible alliance with the BJP, however, a familiar chatter has once again surfaced that may not bode well for the Captain's plans. And these pertain not to his career as a politician but his personal life involving his old friend and Pakistani journalist Aroosa Alam.
Last week saw the nation hurriedly Googling 'Who is Aroosa Alam' after a Punjab minister alleged that Alam, known to be a good friend of Singh, had links with the ISI in Pakistan. Shadowy rumours about her alleged closeness with the Captain and the role she played in important political decisions did the rounds to an extent that both Singh and Alam responded by clarifying that the duo was just friends and that the controversy was an effort to malign Singh by his detractors.
But who is Aroosa Alam? And what is her connection to India and Amarinder Singh? Here's what we know.
Who is Aroosa Alam?
Aroosa Alam is a Pakistani defence journalist who has been known to be a close friend of former Congress leader and Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. She is a defence analyst with the Urdu publication 'Jung' and is well known in the elite civil-defence circles of Pakistan. Apart from being a renowned journalist not just in Pakistan but across South Asia, Alam also comes from a family of high repute. She is the daughter of Akhleem Akhtar, also known as 'Rani General' who was a close associate of former Pakistani dictator General Yahya Khan. Akhtar was once one of the most powerful women in Pakistan. Alam's son is a popular actor, singer and performer in the country.
What is Alam's India connect?
Alam first came to India in 2005 as part of a journalists' exchange program organised by SAFMA during which time she also met Captain Amarinder Singh, who was then serving his first tenure as the CM of Punjab (2002-07). Since then, she has been a regular face in political and media circles in the country. She soon became an important figure in political and elite circles of Punjab with several Congress leaders and businessmen vying for her time. 2005 onward, Alam has visited India several times and Singh recently claimed that he has been sponsoring Alam's visa for the past 16 years.
What is Alam's connections with Singh?
Alam and Singh reportedly met first in 2004 when Singh visited Pakistan. The Pakistani journalist is said to have become influential in the former Punjab CM's inner circle during his second term. (2017 to 2021). Such reports have officially been denied.
However, there were rumours of Alam's alleged friendship with Singh even before 2017, most notably in 2007 ahead of the legislative election campaign (The Akali Dal-BJP combine went on to win the election). Back then, Shiromani Akali Dal's Sukhbir Singh Badal had told reporters about the friendship between Alam and Singh and even alleged that Singh had given her expensive gifts. The allegations were never proved. After the election, Singh introduced Alam to the media for the first time during a private interaction at his sister's residence. Since then, Alam has been a regular in Singh's company.
Alam was reportedly a VVIP guest during Singh's swearing-in ceremony. She even attended the launch of Singh's biography "The People's Maharaja" in 2017 which included a chapter on his relationship with Alam.
Why is Alam in news now?
Alam came back into the limelight after Singh's ouster as the CM of Punjab and his resignation from the Congress party earlier in the month. Amid reports of Singh floating his own party and speculation regarding a possible alliance with the BJP ahead of the Legislative Assembly elections in the state next year, stories of Alam have once again started doing the rounds. Several former aides of Singh and politicians have raised questions about Alam and her connections to the Pakistani military intelligentsia.
It all started when Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, former Captain loyalist and present Deputy Cheif Minister Punjab, accused Alam of having links with the ISI and stated that the links needed to be probed.
A day after Randhawa's accusations, PPCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu alleged that no postings in Punjab Police took place without first paying off Alam and added that the latter "ran away" with all the money.
Another Punjab cabinet minister Razia Sultana also shared images of Alam and raised several allegations against her.
What did Singh and Alam say in response to the controversy?
Following the controversy, Singh responded by sharing images of Alam along with several famous and political personalities including veteran Congress leaders like Sonia Gandhi and BJP leaders like former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Posting the series of images, Singh asked if all those people were also related to ISI.
‘You were a minister in my cabinet @Sukhjinder_INC. Never heard you complain about Aroosa Alam. And she’d been coming for 16 years with due GoI clearances. Or are you alleging that both NDA and @INCIndia led UPA govts in this period connived with Pak ISI?’: @capt_amarinder 2/3— Raveen Thukral (@RT_Media_Capt) October 22, 2021
Alam, on the other hand, has also reacted to the controversy linking her to ISI. Speaking to Indian Express, Alam called the allegations "absurd" .
Responding to allegations of her alleged "special" relationship with Singh, Alam dismissed the reports and said that she and Singh were "soulmates", not lovers.
“We have been companions. When I first met him, I was 56 and he was around 66. At such an age, you are not looking for lovers. We were friends, companions and soulmates," Alam was quoted as saying by India Today.
Responding to allegations of her having links with ISI, Alam said that she had been regularly coming to India after procuring visas through legitimate channels and said that if she really had ISI links, all those allowing her entry in the past 16 years were traitors.
She even referred to Captain's loyalists-turned-critics who had now switched allegiances as a "bunch of hyenas" baying for power.
What the controversy might mean for Captain Amarinder Singh
Amarinder Singh has been trying to pitch himself as a serious player against Congress' Navjot Singh Sidhu in the upcoming elections in Punjab. Earlier in October, Singh quit the Congress after he was replaced as the Punjab CM by Charanjit Singh Channi in the midst of an ongoing public tiff with Sidhu. The Captain's popularity and influence in the state may turn out to be a key factor in deciding the poll results next year. Whether gossipy rumours about his Pakistani friends will impact Singh's future political plans in the state remains to be seen.