Punjab cabinet expansion: Rahul Gandhi, Capt Amarinder meet today, no consensus yet on some names | punjab | top | Hindustan Times
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Punjab cabinet expansion: Rahul Gandhi, Capt Amarinder meet today, no consensus yet on some names

Divided house: Senior party leaders contend CM’s plan to appoint legislative assistants has no legal or political justification.

punjab Updated: Apr 19, 2018 09:27 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
The party’s options in Doaba, the belt Rana hails from, are also limited. For the eight remaining slots, there is no consensus on some candidates who owe allegiance to either Rahul Gandhi or Amarinder.
The party’s options in Doaba, the belt Rana hails from, are also limited. For the eight remaining slots, there is no consensus on some candidates who owe allegiance to either Rahul Gandhi or Amarinder. (HT File)

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh will meet Congress national president Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on Thursday to finalise new faces for cabinet expansion as consensus still eludes the party on the issue over a year after it formed government in the state.

The three other leaders attending the meeting — state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, general secretary and secretary in-charge of Punjab affairs Asha Kumari and Harish Chaudhary — are learnt to be batting for or opposing some probable candidates. Chaudhary, a confidant of Rahul, will ensure entry of some young faces in the council of ministers.

Amarinder is learnt to be eager to keep one slot vacant for the return of Rana Gurjit Singh, who had to quit his cabinet unceremoniously after being embroiled in the sand mining controversy. The party’s options in Doaba, the belt Rana hails from, are also limited. For the eight remaining slots, there is no consensus on some candidates who owe allegiance to either Rahul or Amarinder. Politically important Malwa is likely to bag five slots in the new council of ministers, Majha two and Doaba one.

In the Malwa belt, a grossly underrepresented Ludhiana may bag two berths. The party has to choose between three Hindu faces on the basis of youth versus seniority. Going by the youth factor, two-time Ludhiana West MLA Bharat Bhushan Ashu is likely to find a berth. If not inducted into the cabinet, old-timers Rakesh Pandey and Surinder Dawar may be offered chairmanship of a board or corporation. Fatehgarh Sahib legislator Kuljit Singh Nagra is also a frontrunner from the young brigade.

But there is no consensus yet on the names of Indian Youth Congress president and Gidderbaha MLA Amrinder Singh Raja Warring and Sangrur MLA Vijay Inder Singla, with the latter fitting the bill as both a Rahul protege and a Hindu face. While Captain is learnt to be batting for his loyalist Rana Gurmeet Sodhi, Jakhar is opposed to his induction.

‘Legislative assistants’ will be attached with ministers and help them in legislative business and have their work stations in the assembly.

In Majha, the CM is keen on five-timer OP Soni but Rahul has yet to endorse it. A top contender for a berth is legislator Sukhjinder Randhawa, who represents the rural, Jat Sikh-dominated seat of Dera Baba Nanak and had ensured Jakhar’s victory in the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll last year. Sukh Sarkaria, a Captain loyalist, too represents a Jat Sikh-dominated, rural seat of Raja Sansi but he may be rewarded with some other position in the CM’s team. Amritsar West MLA Raj Kumar Verka is likely to sail through as a Dalit leader. From Doaba, Sangat Singh Gilzian is a frontrunner on the basis of seniority and has no opposition.

‘The please-all’ formula

The Congress, which bagged 77 seats in the last year’s polls, will not disappoint the probables who do not get cabinet berths. The CM has announced to reward them with chairmanship in boards and corporations, a largesse he had promised those who did not secure the party ticket during the assembly polls and had turned rebels. For one- or two-time MLAs, Amarinder has proposed posts of ‘legislative assistants’ to groom them as future ministers.

‘Legislative assistants’ will be attached with ministers and help them in legislative business and have their work stations in the assembly.

But ministers and senior Congress leaders contend that no discussion has been held within the party and the government on the legal and political viability of the post.

“The ministers take an oath of secrecy. Therefore, legislative assistants may not get access to files. There is also a dichotomy. How will MLAs ask questions from ministers if they become their assistants? Will they forgo their own freedom and rights?” an MLA asked.

“The MLAs’ grouse is that they have no say in running the government. That will not be resolved anyways. The move does not make any sense legally, morally or politically,” another senior leader said.

The government may bring in an ordinance to appoint them through an executive order. But RTI activist HC Arora warns of legal hurdles. “The Punjab and Haryana high court has made it clear that neither the assembly nor the governor has powers to appoint MLAs on any position. Just changing the title of the post does not change the law,” says Arora who has already sent a notice to the government saying he will file a public interest litigation (PIL) if the government goes ahead with the move.

But some of first-time MLAs are all for it. “It will help us learn how the system works. It would be an honour to be appointed a legislative assistant. Young MLAs should also be appointed as ministers,” said Khem Karan MLA Sukhpal Bhullar.