Poll-bound Punjab, UP rejig cabinets
Fifteen Congress MLAs were sworn in as ministers in Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s cabinet on Sunday, with dissent over the selection of leaders fanning new controversy in the state headed for polls in under five months.
A similar exercise was carried out in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, where chief minister Yogi Adityanath inducted seven leaders into his council of ministers, trying to balance caste and regional aspirations. Jitin Prasada, who recently crossed over to the Bharatiya Janata Party from the Congress, was administered oath as cabinet minister, while six others were sworn in as ministers of state.
Channi, who took over as the chief minister after Congress veteran Amarinder Singh’s unceremonious exit after a prolonged power tussle with state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, included six new faces in his first cabinet expansion.
The new faces are Randeep Singh Nabha, Raj Kumar Verka, Sangat Singh Gilzian, Pargat Singh, Amrinder Singh Raja Warring and Gurkirat Singh Kotli.
Rana Gurjit Singh, who was forced to resign from the previous Amarinder Singh cabinet over allegations of corruption in 2018, was also sworn in on Sunday.
Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit administered the oath of office and secrecy to the legislators a day after Channi finalised the names after three rounds of discussions with the Congress leadership.
While Amarinder skipped the ceremony, Punjab affairs incharge Harish Rawat and Sidhu were present during the oath-taking.
The exercise, carried out after approvals from former leader Rahul Gandhi and Sidhu, has brought about a generational shift in the state leadership, taking into consideration caste and regional equations, experts said.
Verka hails from the Valmiki community and Gilzian represents the other backward classes (OBCs). The five other MLAs are Jat Sikhs.
After Channi, a Dalit leader, was elected as the Congress Legislature Party leader, the party picked Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, a Jat Sikh, and OP Soni, a Hindu, as his deputies.
State unit incharge Harish Rawat said the exercise has been done to bring in young faces and strike a social and regional balance. “We have tried to ensure a social balance. This is a balanced cabinet,” he said after the oath-taking ceremony.
In the 18-member cabinet, nine ministers are from the state’s Malwa region, six — including the two deputy CMs — from Majha and three from Doaba.
Eight ministers from the previous cabinet — Brahm Mohindra, Manpreet Singh Badal, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Aruna Chaudhary, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, Razia Sultana, Vijay Inder Singla and Bharat Bhushan Ashu — were retained.
The party, however, dropped five ministers — Balbir Singh Sidhu, Gurpreet Singh Kangar, Rana Gurmeet Sodhi, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot and Sundar Shyam Arora — from the previous cabinet, leading to loud protests ahead of the swearing-in ceremony.
Balbir Singh and Gurpreet Singh held a joint news conference and questioned the party leadership’s decision to drop them.
Earlier in the day, last-minute changes were made to the list of candidates approved a day earlier, after four-time MLA Randeep Singh Nabha lodged a strong protest against his name being dropped from the cabinet list, people familiar with the matter said.
The Amloh MLA was added to the list, replacing Punjab Congress working president Kuljit Singh Nagra, a two-time MLA from Fatehgarh Sahib, the people cited above said.
The day saw more protests as at least six legislators from Doaba region wrote to Sidhu, objecting to the induction of former irrigation and power minister Rana Gurjit Singh, alleging that he was “corrupt and tainted”.
The leaders demanded that the cabinet berth should instead be filled up “by giving representation to a clean Dalit leader”, news agency PTI reported citing the letter. A copy of the letter was also sent to the chief minister.
Rana Gurjit Singh, after facing flak from the Opposition over allegations of impropriety in the auction of sand mining contracts, had resigned from the previous Amarinder Singh cabinet in 2018. Rana Gurjit, Mohindra and Singla are considered close to Amarinder Singh.
Rawat, in what appeared to be an attempt at controlling discontent in the faction-ridden party, later said: “We have decided that those who could not be accommodated in the Cabinet, they will be adjusted in the party and government set-up because there is a lot of work, they will be given responsibilities.”
Deputy chief ministers, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and OP Soni, were sworn in last Monday.
(With agency inputs)