Reinforcing the Aam Aadmi Party’s message of ‘zero tolerance towards corruption’ Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann, on Tuesday, sacked his health minister in light of the latter’s arrest on corruption. The move comes ahead of the elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.
Mann announced the dismissal of his minister in a video message, just two months after his Cabinet was sworn in.
“A case was brought to my notice in which one minister in my government was demanding a one per cent commission from each tender or purchase of his department…I am taking strict action against that minister and I am removing him from the cabinet. I am also giving directions to the police to register a case against him. That minister’s name is Vijay Singla. He was the health minister,” Mann said.
AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal applauded the “brother” and claimed, “AAP is the only party where there is no place for corruption and the corrupt.”
Reportedly, CM Mann was told about the bribe demand 10 days ago with an audio recording of the demand. Kejriwal, in the run-up to Punjab polls, had asked voters not to refuse to bribe but to record it and send it to the Punjab CM, a formulae Kejriwal had prescribed to Delhi voters in 2013.
Mann, in a tweet, recalled that Delhi CM Kejriwal had also removed his food and supplies minister in 2015 and handed over the case to the CBI.
Kejriwal while sacking Delhi’s Food and Supplies Minister Asim Ahmed Khan in October 2015, had challenged the Bharatiya Janata Party to follow suit and do the same in the cases of then Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Chouhan respectively.
The anti-corruption route has been a central theme of AAP’s campaign; it began in Delhi and has now been put to use in Punjab. Kejriwal’s party promised clean governance in its poll campaigns in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, as well as in the other BJP-ruled state Himachal Pradesh.
While politics in these two states, where polls are this year-end, has always been a two-party affair between the BJP and Congress, buoyed by its recent Punjab victory, AAP is targeting a national role and is betting big on this year’s assembly polls.
While Opposition parties outrightly dismissed AAP’s quick decision to sack its health minister, the action also opened old wounds in Congress, some of whose leaders rued that had Congress Chief Ministers like Captain Amarinder Sigh acted against their own corrupt ministers, the party would not have been in Opposition.
Congress MLA Sukhbir Khaira congratulated Mann on his “bold decision” to dismiss his minister on charges of corruption. “This stern action against the powerful will send a pan-Punjab message to all corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. I have always maintained that all good decisions will be welcomed. This bold action of Mann is a lesson to erstwhile Congress CMs like Captain Amarinder Singh. Had they acted against their own corrupt ministers and leaders, Congress wouldn’t have been in opposition,” Khaira, who had also a brief stint with AAP between 2017 and 2018, posted on Twitter.
Seeking to take high moral ground, Mann said he will not tolerate the corruption of a single rupee and reminded, “Only I knew about this case, neither the media nor the opposition had an idea about it. Had I wanted to, I would have covered it up.”
Kejriwal posted on Twitter “Proud of you Bhagwant. Ur action has brought tears to my eyes. The whole nation today feels proud of AAP (sic).”
“Aam Aadmi Party is the only party that has the integrity, courage and uprightness to take action against their own on grounds of corruption. We saw it in Delhi, now we are witnessing it in Punjab,” AAP MP Raghav Chadda said.
AAP formed a government in Punjab in March this year after winning 92 of the 117 seats in Punjab. Singla, who was a dental surgeon by profession, had become MLA after defeating Punjabi singer and Congress candidate Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, also known as Sidhu Moosewala.
Punjab Congress tweeted news clippings of AAP leaders booked under various cases while BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia asked Kejriwal what happened to his promise that AAP has finished corruption within 20 days in Punjab.
“AAP has governments in two states. Your health minister in Punjab has turned out to be corrupt while there are allegations of corruption against your Delhi health minister (Satyendra Jain). Two states, two health ministers and both corrupt. This means only Arvind Kejriwal can give a 100 per cent corruption rate,” Bhatia said.
BJP had earlier alleged corruption in the award of the Public Works Department tender for the setting up of seven temporary hospitals in Delhi.