Many lobbying for Punjab cabinet berths but only a few pass screening test
Nine slots up for grabs: Loyalists of both Capt Amarinder, Rahul Gandhi seen as ‘controversial’ not likely to be inducted.punjab Updated: Jan 30, 2018 09:50 IST
The new deadline for cabinet expansion declared by Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, after the Ludhiana municipal corporation polls in February, has again triggered hectic lobbying for ministerial berths among Congress MLAs.
But the ouster of former power and irrigation minister Rana Gurjit Singh has forced the party to tread with caution. It is learnt that some names in the earlier list prepared by the CM which were “controversial” have been dropped.
- The hottest contest for cabinet berths will be amongst the aggressive and ambitious Majha brigade. Though seen as part of one team, both Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria and Sukhjinder Randhawa are Jat Sikhs from rural seats.
- Unlike Randhawa, Sarkaria is a Captain loyalist with no appetite for revolt. A firebrand leader, Randhawa can cause bushfires, if ignored. From Amritsar, Raj Kumar Verka too is fancying his chances as a Dalit leader.
- Amarinder is also keen on five-time legislator OP Soni, who does not enjoy support of other Amritsar leaders. Solving the Majha muddle and distributing the 30-odd portfolios under him will be Captain’s biggest challenge when he inducts new faces in his cabinet.
For the eight vacant slots before Rana’s exit, the party had tried to balance religion, caste, region, youth and experience criteria among the many contenders while screening them. Captain loyalists and young protégés of Congress president Rahul Gandhi who fit these were shortlisted. But with stakes of many Congress MLAs running into sand mining, liquor, transport and other state-run businesses, a few frontrunners have passed the screening test of “no tag of controversy”. Three old-timers whom Amarinder was batting for and a two-time MLA who is part of Rahul’s youth brigade are not likely to make it to the list. There are now nine slots up for grabs.
During an internal meeting this month with government and party officials, Amarinder and his two top officials had admitted there were vigilance reports on party MLAs indulging in sand mining.
Among Jat Sikh leaders who can be groomed, Rampura Phul MLA Gurpreet Kangar too is in the reckoning.
“Unfortunately, the ‘goonda tax’ being collected by MLAs is not being stopped. But earlier, in the CM’s list of recommendations were also his own confidants whose names have cropped up in mining and liquor business. This also explained his reluctance to drop Rana. But now, Rahul has made it clear that the Congress cannot afford even the perception that it is shielding the corrupt. Even an MLA handpicked by Rahul for a central post may not be accommodated,” a senior party leader said.
A faction in the party also believes the CM does not want to rein in these MLAs to ensure their allegiance to him.
There is strong opposition among Congress leaders to ministers Manpreet Badal and Navjot Singh Sidhu, who came from the SAD and BJP, respectively, being Amarinder’s successors. The party’s old guard too is batting for grooming “hardcore Congressmen” as the Gen-Next leaders.
The names of MLAs Kuljit Nagra, Bharat Bhushan Ashu and Vijay Inder Singla have reportedly been finalised for the cabinet. All three are from Malwa. Nagra is a Jat Sikh, while Ashu and Singla are Hindus. Among Jat Sikh leaders who can be groomed, Rampura Phul MLA Gurpreet Kangar too is in the reckoning. From Doaba, party’s choices are limited. Rana is out and others are first-timers barring Sangat Singh Gilzian who also fulfils the criteria of being an OBC leader.