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Ministers vs ministers: After ‘leaks’, war within Congress cabinet spills out

Fissures revealed a day after Sidhu came under fire for a raid on Patiala mayor, Channi for comments on law officers’ appointment.

punjab Updated: Jun 02, 2018 09:57 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
After media reports of health minister Brahm Mohindra “attacking” him during Thursday’s cabinet meeting over a raid at the Patiala mayor’s home, local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu said the the sanctity of the cabinet is being damaged.
After media reports of health minister Brahm Mohindra “attacking” him during Thursday’s cabinet meeting over a raid at the Patiala mayor’s home, local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu said the the sanctity of the cabinet is being damaged.

The war inside the Punjab cabinet has spilled out in the open. After media reports of health minister Brahm Mohindra “attacking” him during Thursday’s cabinet meeting over a raid at the Patiala mayor’s home, local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu said the the sanctity of the cabinet is being damaged.

“Not only is the secrecy of cabinet meetings being breached, but the truth is mutilated and presented in a way that suits the person leaking the information. They are playing the game of political checkmate through the cabinet,” Sidhu said.Mohindra admits objecting to a raid at the home of the mayor reportedly after Sidhu’s orders, during the informal part of the cabinet meeting (when official business is over). “The raid was not in good taste. Patiala is the chief minister’s home turf and it is my constituency too. I did object to it. But all ministers are bound by oath of secrecy. It is improper to share what transpires inside,” he said.

Sidhu said, “I had asked the chief vigilance officer of my department to enquire about allegations of tenders being reinvited for projects already completed, as per media reports. I did not know whose house they (officials) went to. Even if they went to the mayor’s house, he is not above the law.” The mayor, Sanjiv Sharma Bittu, belongs to the state’s ruling party, the Congress.

Technical education minister Charanjit Singh Channi, too, as per reports, came under fire for his statement objecting to no Dalit being on the list of 28 law officers appointed recently.Sidhu’s son was on the list but later withdrew upon criticism regarding alleged nepotism. The attack on Channi reportedly came from the ‘Majha brigade’ — CM's three hardcore loyalists, cooperation minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, rural development minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwaand mining minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria. However, a day later, Randhawa and Bajwa denied flaying Channi for his outburst.

“I spoke against special police security being given to (Akali leader Bikram Singh) Majithia in the cabinet meeting. I did not speak against Channi or leak anything to media,” Randhawa claimed. Channi, who left for the UK on May 30 after clearing his PhD entrance exam at Panjab University, was not present in the meeting.

Finance minister Manpreet Badal too, it is learnt, had taken objection to “leaks breaching the sanctity” of the cabinet in earlier meetings. In February, Tripat had embarrassed Manpreet by naming his brother-in-law, Jaijeet Singh ‘Jojo’, for being involved in alleged “goonda tax” being collected for sand supply at the Bathinda refinery. This, too, was leaked. But Bajwa denies doing so. “I can only apologise on behalf of my cabinet colleagues who leak information,” he said. Manpreet was not present in Thursday's meeting.

The CM, when contacted, said, “Media leaks about cabinet discussions are not justified or condonable. If something that is discussed within four walls goes out, it amounts to serious impropriety. As senior members of the government, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that such things do not happen. I intend speaking to my colleagues on this issue in the next meeting of the cabinet.”

Another minister, who did not wish to be named, said a cabinet meeting is for free and fair discussion on policies and programmes. “If what is said is leaked out, what sanctity is left to a cabinet meeting? Some ministers are first-timers who do not know the protocol. Some do it to demoralise other ministers and play to the gallery,” he said. First-timers such as power minister Gurpreet Singh Kangar are baffled, too. “What was said in the cabinet and how it was said was totally different from what appeared in the media. I am surprised too,” he said.