All five Punjab BJP ministers and the two chief parliamentary secretaries (CPS) resigned on Thursday night on the directions of the party high command which was thinking of effecting a purge of those under cloud over corruption charges.
State party affairs in-charge Shanta Kumar, who briefed the BJP MLAs at an emergency meeting, which lasted barely 20 minutes, soon after said, the decision had been taken to ‘strengthen the party’. He declined to divulge further details and left for chief minister Parkash Singh Badal's residence to hand over the resignations.
After the CBI questioned two BJP ministers of the Punjab cabinet, Manoranjan Kalia and Swarna Ram, in the alleged Rs 1.5-crore bribery case related to a controversial land deal, the party high command was caught in a bind.
It wanted to show it would purge ‘corrupt’ elements in the Akali Dal-BJP coalition government ahead of the assembly polls next year, possibly by effecting a reshuffle.
But it was also wary of what it sees as a ‘trap’ laid by the Congress, using the CBI against its ministers. Authorised by the party's core group, BJP chief Nitin Gadkari decided on changing ministers in the state cabinet. Already, an arrested MLA, Raj Kumar Khurana, resigned as chief parliamentary secretary, citing "moral grounds."
So far the CBI is yet to get ‘hard evidence’ against the two ministers under the scanner, a senior CBI official said on the condition of anonymity.
The CBI had arrested Khurana along with realtor Davinder Singh on May 4 on the charges of demanding a bribe of Rs 1.5 crore for hushing up a complaint in Chandigarh.
Later the probe agency arrested Bhag Singh, private secretary to Swarna Ram. After questioning Bhag Singh, the CBI refused to take his further custody and he was sent to judicial remand. Kalia had ruled out the possibility of his resigning or seeking anticipatory bail. Other ministers who have resigned are: Tikshan Sud, Lakshmi Kanta Chawla and Master Mohan Lal. The CPS, who also resigned: are Sukhpal Singh Nannu and Arunesh Shakir.