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Mr Moneybags’ time is up: A bitter bill for sugar baron-cum-minister Rana Gurjit Singh

A businessman-turned-politician, Rana, the richest candidate in Punjab assembly polls last year, had landed the government in the sandpit just days after it came to power with his alleged use of former employees as frontmen to bid for sand mines worth crores.

punjab Updated: Jan 17, 2018 10:21 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
sugar baron,Rana Gurjit Singh,Punjab minister
While Rana has survived and thrived in politics not as much by his political skills as by his deep pockets, his wasn’t a family with ancestral riches.(HT File )

Money power, not political savvy or grassroots strength, has been minister Rana Gurjit Singh’s calling card in power politics in the Doaba region. As prime financer of Congress poll campaigns, the sweet-talking and Scotch-swilling sugar baron smoothly worked his way into Captain Amarinder Singh’s charmed circle before his fall from grace in the first major scandal to hit the Congress government in its less than a year in office.

His exit, which seems a certainty with pressure mounting on chief minister Amarinder from within the Congress to accept his resignation, has left the party red-faced. An emboldened opposition, particularly Rana’s belligerent bete noire and former Congressman Sukhpal Singh Khaira of the AAP, is going to go after the blundering state government with renewed energy.

A businessman-turned-politician, Rana, the richest candidate in the state assembly polls last year with assets worth Rs 170 crore, had landed the government in the sandpit just days after it came to power with his alleged use of former employees — one of whom was his “cook” — as frontmen to bid for sand mines worth tens of crores.

Sandstorm timeline
  • May 20, 2017: Punjab government auctions 89 sand mines, announces earnings of Rs 1,026 crore
  • May 22-23: Names of Congress leaders, including power minister Rana Gurjit Singh, linked with the contracts; political storm erupts as it comes to light that Rana Gurjit “bagged” mining contracts through his “former” employees, including a cook who paid Rs 10 crore
  • May 31: CM Capt Amarinder Singh orders inquiry, gives task to justice JS Narang (retd)
  • Aug 10: Justice Narang gives the clean chit to Rana Gurjit, saying that no financial loss was caused and auctions were held in transparent manner; CM asked chief secretary to give a report in 15 days
  • Jan 15, 2018: It comes to light that Rana Gurjit has tendered his resignation from the cabinet; CM likely to call after meeting party chief Rahul Gandhi on Jan 18

As more and more details came out, denting the new image of a government that has nearly two-thirds majority, the chorus for action against Rana grew louder. Amarinder was forced to set up a one-member inquiry commission which gave a clean chit to the minister. But it did not help.

There was no end to his troubles, as more charges and controversies, including his family’s interests in the power sector, land purchases and the Enforcement Directorate’s probe in fundraising abroad, kept the pot boiling. The diehard Captain loyalist’s riches also could not save him, turning him literally from an asset to a liability within the first few months.

While Rana has survived and thrived in politics not as much by his political skills as by his deep pockets, his wasn’t a family with ancestral riches. His grandfather, who belonged to village Barrmajara in Nawanshahr (SBS Nagar) district, was an ordinary farmer. He was among the first settlers in New Zealand in early the 1900s, though. In the 1950s, Rana’s father came back to settle in Vikrampur village near Bazpur in what is now Uttarakhand, and started out as a wood contractor for clearing jungles to prepare land for agriculture.

HT Explainer | How Punjab sand mines auctioning got mired in muck?

When the family returned to Punjab in the 1980s, it had enough money to set up new businesses — a paper mill and a sugar mill — and dabble in politics with enough cash reserves to fund the party and its leaders. By the early 1990s, Rana got close to the then chief minister Beant Singh and could be seen rubbing shoulders with other political bigwigs.

In 2002, the Congress fielded him from Kapurthala assembly constituency, thanks to Amarinder who was then the party’s state unit chief. Rana had come in contact with Amarinder through party leader Harminder Singh Jassi, a relative of the now-jailed head of Dera Sacha Sauda Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.

Two years later, Rana contested the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat and won, but lost from Khadoor Sahib in 2009 before winning two successive assembly elections from Kapurthala. His sister-in-law and wife have also represented the seat in the past. Though many see the sand mine and other controversies as the end of the political road for Rana, he says he will bounce back.

First Published: Jan 17, 2018 10:20 IST