Captain Amarinder Singh took over as Punjab’s 26th chief minister on Thursday conveying a clear message of his political intent --- a tight grip on the government.
The new chief minister was administered the oath of office by Punjab governor VP Singh Badnore at a simple function at the Raj Bhawan. Sporting a pink turban and a black sleeveless jacket adorned with army medals, Amarinder took the oath in English.
Along with Amarinder, nine other ministers were also sworn in . While the no-frills ceremony was high on symbolism that Punjab cannot afford opulence, he tried to navigate the tricky waters of personal affiliations by striking a balance between region, religion, caste, gender and seniority matrices in his nine-member cabinet. This way, he also gets to keep the ministerial carrot dangling before the other aspirants.
But the former army captain will face one of his tougher battles as he gets down to running a state riddled with multiple problems from drug menace, mounting debt to farm distress. He will also have to come good on the many promises he made to Punjab voters.
In his second stint at the helm of the state, the former Patiala royal, who has led the Congress to a spectacular victory over the ruling SAD-BJP alliance, also found himself carrying the burden of national aspirations of his party. The presence of top Congress leadership — party vice-president Rahul Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh — underscored how significant Punjab victory is in the Congress scheme of things. The Congress has won Punjab but has been ousted from power in two other states – Uttarakhand and Manipur.
Six-time MLA, Brahm Mohindra was sworn in after Amarinder and before cricket-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu. By projecting Mohindra as number two in the government, Amarinder has let seniority prevail over everything else. Sidhu, is a four-time MP but a first-time MLA. Mohindra does not enjoy mass appeal across Punjab like Sidhu and is no threat to Amarinder.
Since the Congress has romped home on support of Hindus, its traditional vote-bank in Punjab, Amarinder has also tried to give the community its due through Mohindra. Though the party had the best tally -- 23 out of 25 -- in Majha, the message of Amarinder is it is Malwa that was the kingmaker. It was the ground zero of the AAP surge in Punjab but went the Congress way, giving it 40 out of 69 seats. Finally, with both number 1 and number two from Malwa, it will remain the seat of power even in the new government.