Rumblings in Punjab grow louder amid cabinet expansion

Rumblings in Punjab Congress grow louder amid Cabinet expansion

The Congress leadership's sustained efforts to put up a united front on the day of cabinet reshuffle did not cut much ice

Punjab's new Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi with his Cabinet. Credit: PTI Photo

Rumblings in the Punjab Congress grew louder with the first cabinet expansion of the Channi government on Sunday as a group of ministers from the Captain Amarinder Singh-led regime openly resented being dropped while a separate row emerged over the induction of a former minister who had resigned in 2018 owing to an infamous mining scandal.

Key aides of former CM Captain Amarinder Singh, including Balbir Sidhu, Gurpreet Singh Kangar, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, Shyam Sundar Arora and Rana Gurmit Singh were dropped as 15 ministers were inducted on Sunday.

Six new faces — Randeep Singh Nabha, Raj Kumar Verka, Sangat Singh Gilzian, Pargat Singh, Amarinder Singh Raja Warring and Gurkirat Singh Kotli — were inducted to the Channi cabinet, while former minister Rana Gurjit Singh — who had resigned in 2018 from the Amarinder Singh Ministry — staged a comeback, kicking up a row.

Others, who were administered an oath by Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit are Brahm Mohindra, Manpreet Singh Badal, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Aruna Chaudhary, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, Razia Sultana, Vijay Inder Singla and Bharat Bhushan Ashu.  They were ministers in the previous Amarinder Singh-led cabinet as well.

Read | Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi carries out first Cabinet expansion, inducts 15 Ministers, 7 new faces

Most of the ministers in the Channi government are close to Sidhu. Sunday's Cabinet expansion completes the process as a total of 18 ministers including the CM can be included in the Cabinet. Channi, a Dalit leader, had taken oath as CM on September 20 along with two Deputy Chief Ministers Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa from the dominant Jat community and OP Soni, a Hindu leader.

The Congress leadership's sustained efforts to put up a united front on the day of cabinet reshuffle — through multiple rounds of meetings with Punjab leaders in the last few days — did not cut much ice owing to the bitter rivalry between former CM Singh and Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.

"Mera kasoor kee si (What was my fault?)" was the emotional cry of dropped former health minister Balbir Sidhu, who said his performance during Covid-19 was appreciated far off including in the Canadian Parliament. While Sidhu asked the party high command to explain why he was dropped, Kangar also went on to voice his anguish. Both held a joint news conference shortly before the cabinet expansion.

Also Read | Ministers in Amarinder Singh govt question decision to 'drop' them

Lending his weight behind Balbir Sidhu, Congress MP Manish Tewari, who is close to Captain tweeted, "Who should be a Minister or should not be is CM’s prerogative. However I am constrained to point out that Balbir Singh (Sidhu Sahib) as Health Minister went way beyond call of duty during the worst days of COVID-19. His selflessness was unparalleled." Tewari also shared the video clip of Sidhu getting emotional while voicing his disappointment over being dropped.

Rakesh Pandey, a six-time MLA also voiced his unhappiness.

Those who were inducted as ministers, however, said they will take forward the government's work. Nabha hailed it as a "good clean beginning". Nabha was accommodated in place of another probable Kuljit Nagra, who could not make it in the last round.

A group of state Congress leaders had earlier sent a missive to PPCC chief Sidhu protesting the induction of former minister Rana Gurjit Singh into Cabinet, calling him corrupt and demanded that this slot should instead be fille dup by a "clean dalit leader." The Chief Minister also marked the copy. The signatories to the letter incuded six MLAs and former state chief Mohinder Singh Kaypee, who expressed their "huge resentment amongst the public and the Congress cadre" Gurjit's inclusion rued that no dalit leader from Doaba region was included despite the region having approximately 38 percent Dalit population. However, Gurjit made it to the Channi cabinet.

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