Punjab cabinet ministers Adesh Partap Singh Kairon and Bikram Singh Majithia, both related to the ruling Badal family, clashed over important policy issues during the council of ministers' meeting on Thursday, it is learnt.
The unprecedented face-off between the two powerful ministers took place in the presence of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, while deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal was absent from the meeting.
Kairon and Majithia, both most influential Akali chieftains from the Majha region, unexpectedly crossed swords over the state industrial policy, advance tax on imported goods, and grant of ministerial status to newly-appointed media advisers to Sukhbir. Even as the Kairon-Majithia clash stunned the cabinet, the Akali patriarch played peacemaker and defused the verbal sparring that has since become the talking point in the corridors of power.
Punjab cabinet ministers Adesh Partap Singh Kairon and Bikram Singh Majithia
Top political sources said this verbal duel, which lasted more than 30 minutes, was sparked off by the Majithia-Sukhbir-engineered move of appointing media advisers and granting them minister of state and chief parliamentary secretary status.
While Kairon allegedly opposed these decisions, Majithia had the last laugh, as the cabinet approved every agenda after Badal, in his inimitable style, stepped in. The food minister, sources say, took the cabinet off guard by raising the issue of industrial policy, even as this was not on the cabinet agenda. "Kairon trashed the industrial policy and wanted to have a say in finalising it, on the grounds that he also held the information and technology portfolio, which is at the centre of the new industrial policy," a source, who was present at the cabinet meeting, said.
However, Majithia dismissed every contention of Kairon as an attempt to "erect roadblocks". The two exchanged increasingly sharp words over the excise and taxation department's decision of levying advance tax on certain imported goods. Kairon, known for his business interests, demanded not to push through this proposal. But Majithia, also backed by finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa, opposed Kairon.
The tussle touched new low over the growing number of Sukhbir's media advisers, their minister of state status, pay and perks, as it raised the hackles of his other brother-in-law, Kairon. Kairon spoke against bestowing the largesse on advisers.
Sukhbir had announced the appointment of his media adviser and assistant media adviser weeks before the cabinet's approval, but approving the posts and the terms of their service figured on the cabinet's agenda only on Thursday. The first to object was Kairon, who said the trend of granting minister's rank to advisers was undermining the rank's status. "We fight elections and do public service to be here. How can the advisers get the minister's status," he said.
A few other Akali and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ministers supported his views. With that happening, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal intervened to clear all items on the agenda, including these appointments.