Team Channi: 15 take oath in Punjab cabinet rejig, Rana Gurjit in despite protest
Chandigarh Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi inducted 15 ministers on Sunday to expand his cabinet amid an outpouring of dissent against some of those selected for ministerial berths.
Channi, who took charge along with two deputies in a sudden change of guard a week ago, inducted six new faces in his cabinet and retained eight, mostly senior ones, from the Capt Amarinder Singh-led setup, besides bringing back former minister Rana Gurjit Singh whose inclusion triggered protests by some party leaders.
The new entrants have come in place of five ministers who were embroiled in controversies during the previous administration and have been dropped.
The ministers, all in the cabinet rank – were administered the oath of office and secrecy by governor Banwarilal Purohit in the presence of the chief minister and his two deputies Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and OP Soni at a ceremony held at Raj Bhavan here. Punjab affairs in-charge Harish Rawat and Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu were also present whereas former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh stayed away.
The shake-up, carried out after several rounds of discussions, is being seen as a step towards a generational shift under former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who approved the new team, and Navjot Singh Sidhu with several relatively young legislators making it to the new cabinet sworn in less than five months before the state assembly polls. The new faces inducted into the cabinet include Randeep Singh Nabha, Raj Kumar Verka, Sangat Singh Gilzian, Pargat Singh, Amrinder Singh Raja Warring and Gurkirat Singh Kotli.
Punjab affairs in-charge Harish Rawat said this exercise has been done to bring in young faces and strike a social and regional balance. However, there was drama till the eleventh hour and the party high command made a last-minute change among the new faces approved a day earlier after Randeep Singh Nabha, a four-time MLA, lodged a strong protest against his non-inclusion, citing his seniority. The Amloh MLA was added to the list in place of Punjab Congress working president Kuljit Singh Nagra, a two-time MLA from Fatehgarh Sahib.
“I have decided not to be part of the cabinet, as I had earlier submitted my resignation on farmer’s issue. I stand with farmers’ agitation,” Kujit Nagra tweeted after his name was dropped.
There were also vociferous protests by some party MLAs and other leaders against Kapurthala MLA Rana Gurjit’s inclusion before the oath-taking ceremony. Six legislators from Doaba, the region to which he belongs, shot off a letter to Sidhu, demanding that he should not be sworn in due to his alleged involvement in corruption. His proposed cabinet slot should go to a Dalit leader from the region instead, the protesting MLAs said, claiming his inclusion would give a wrong message. They also met Sidhu at his Patiala residence.
Ferozepur City MLA Parminder Singh Pinky also opposed the induction of those facing allegations and holding posting in the party. However, the Congress leadership went ahead with his induction to complete the new chief minister’s team. In the 18-member state cabinet, 9 ministers are from Malwa, six from Majha and three from Doaba.