Caught in ‘sandstorm’ | Rumblings grow within Captain’s cabinet, Cong: ‘Minister Rana needs to go’
As allegations of “benami” sand mining deals against power and irrigation minister Rana Gurjit Singh gather storm, rumblings within the cabinet and the party are also growing louder — that the minister should step down till his name is cleared by the judicial commission set up by the CM.punjab Updated: Jun 05, 2017 08:55 IST
With one of its ministers in eye of a raging “sandstorm”, the two-month-old Captain Amarinder Singh government seems to be fighting its first credibility crisis a bit too early.
As allegations of “benami” sand mining deals against power and irrigation minister Rana Gurjit Singh gather storm, rumblings within the cabinet and the party are also growing louder — that the minister should step down till his name is cleared by the judicial commission set up by the CM.
Requesting anonymity, a cabinet minister said the Congress came to power on a promise of clean governance and it cannot forsake it in two months. “One man should not be allowed to take the whole party down,” he said.
Another cabinet minister said: “Rana will have to go. It’s just a matter of time. The government cannot be seen as giving him a clean chit.” However, senior cabinet minister Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa, said the CM has ordered a judicial probe and they should wait for the outcome.
But the government’s worry is not so much of losing face as the prospect of the issue derailing its preparedness for the budget session. Its much-hyped ammo of white paper on “financial mismanagement” during the 10-year rule of the Akaki-BJP government may go unnoticed, if not unused, if the Opposition AAP and the SAD-BJP stall the session demanding Rana’s ouster, resulting in a washout.
On the back foot, the government is also mulling to delay the session to mid-June expecting the storm to blow over.
The MLAs, who have been meeting the CM in the last few days in batches with problems in their constituencies, have left it to state party chief Sunil Jakhar to convey their feelings to the CM that the issue should “not be allowed to linger on”.
“The minister should quit till his name is cleared. It is a huge embarrassment for us and our government as just nine ministers have been sworn in and one of them is already facing charges of benami stakes in sand mines. People have no faith in the judicial commissions set up by the government. The intent should show on part of the CM or the minister should resign on his own calling,” a MLA said, wishing not to be named.
But some wannabe ministers are not so forthcoming. “It is too early to say anything. The government made sand mining a fair game by going for e-auction. Rana is an established industrialist and does not need to go for benami deals,” All India Youth Congress chief and Gidderbaha MLA Amrinder Singh Raja Warring said.
Though Rana has said Amit Bahadur and Kulvinder Paul, who have bagged mining contracts, are his former employees and his friend Capt JS Randhawa has claimed they are working partners of his son Sanjit Randhawa’s firms, what may queer the pitch for Rana is the three other firms in which Bahadur is a director bear the same email id or address as his company, Rana Sugars. Even if the money trail for mining bids may lead to bank accounts of Randhawa’s firms, the minister’s poll affidavit shows he owes Bahadur’s firms loans running into crores of rupees.
Justice Narang may have to recuse
Though the Amarinder government seems to be in no mood to give into allegations of Opposition that justice JS Narang (retd) has links with Rana, sources in government said he would have to recuse himself if indeed a client-counsel relationship is proved. “A judicial commission is formed under the Commission of Inquiry Act and the name of the judge is approved by the Chief Justice of India. Yet if a client-lawyer relation is proved, he will have to recuse himself,” a senior government official said. AAP leader Sukhpal Khaira has alleged that Narang’s son, Amitjeet Narang, has worked as counsel of minister’s nephew, Rana Prabhdeep Singh.
But upbeat minister in no mood to step down
A white kurta-pyjama and colour-coded vest, pocket square and turban in pastel shades, Punjab’s power and irrigation minister Rana Gurjit Singh is not known as much for his millions as his dressing style among Punjab MLAs.
Even the “dressing down” in the media — over reports of his alleged benami sand mining bids — have not affected Rana’s flourish to dress up.
In his white kurta-pyjama, orange turban, vest and pocket square, the minister looked upbeat as he came to his office at the secretariat on Wednesday.
Rana does not have many friends in the party and government to stand by him but he does not seem to need any. He has the confidence of chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh himself and some of his close friends.
A day in Rana’s life remains quite the same. Accompanied by his confidant, Khadoor Sahib MLA Ramanjit Sikki, he went to meet CM’s chief principal secretary Suresh Kumar for some work before heading to his room full of people waiting for him. He met a few in the back room in his office and also asked his staff to allow the media in, but not for a “bite”.
“I have nothing to say to the media till the judicial commission gives its report,” is all that he told reporters.
“Not just Rana, even the CM may want to brazen it out as one wicket out of nine falling in two months is a bad start. But you can’t fault him in his dressing sense,” a Congress MLA quipped as Rana went past him in the corridors of the CM’s office. Rana’s confidence is sheer bravado or righteousness, only time will tell.