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Punjab CM Amarinder meets Rahul, no word on cabinet expansion

Cabinet expansion prerogative of CM, Rahul only discussed organisational issues with me, says Jakhar

punjab Updated: Jul 08, 2017 23:04 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh,Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi,Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and (right) Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. (HT File Photo)

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh called on Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at his residence in New Delhi on Saturday afternoon but as per indications, the much-awaited cabinet expansion may not happen anytime soon.

Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar and All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in-charge for Punjab affairs Asha Kumari also met Rahul to discuss party affairs but no probable names for the cabinet were discussed. Later, Amarinder met Rahul separately during which he brought up the issue of cabinet expansion.

At a recent press conference at Chandigarh, Amarinder said the cabinet expansion will take place after he meets Rahul.

Party sources say the CM is in no hurry to induct more ministers. “Most of the plum portfolios are still with the CM and he is keen to keep a tight leash on administration by having fewer ministers, mainly loyalists. The CM also wants to keep the ministerial berths dangling to ensure loyalty at a time when MLAs are showing signs of unease over the working of the government, mainly free hand given by the CM to his officers. He may like to keep the MLAs guessing till the municipal elections are held in the state,” said sources.

The 117-member Punjab House can have 18 ministers. Nine ministers have already been sworn in along with the CM on March 16, leaving eight berths. Having won 77 assembly seats, the party also seems to be suffering from the problem of plenty.

Amarinder will have to pick and choose from among his favourites, old-timers and Rahul’s young Turks. Amarinder may like to accommodate some more of his loyalists such as Rana Gurmeet Sodhi, but he cannot afford to overlook the seniority of MLAs — Ludhiana North MLA Rakesh Pandey and Amritsar Central MLA OP Soni. He may invite another controversy if he appoints Mohali MLA Balbir Sidhu who has stakes in the liquor business.

The CM also cannot ignore the claims of Rahul’s young brigade of MLAs such as Bharat Bhushan Ashu, Kuljit Nagra, Vijayinder Singla and Amrinder Singh Raja Warring.

Congress insiders say minister Charanjit Singh Channi is already “voiced his disappointment” at being allotted just the technical education and training portfolio and there are murmurs in the party against plum posts to Sadhu Singh Dharamsot and Razia Sultana. Though Amarinder has been able to deflect party and public anger against power minister Rana Gurjit Singh after his name surfaced in the sand mining auctions by ordering a judicial probe, the simmering discontent among MLAs may erupt if the CM is unable to do a balancing act between different factions, regions, caste and community.

Saying that cabinet expansion is the prerogative of the CM, Jakhar said only organisational issues were discussed during his meeting with Rahul. “The party vice-president is keen to strengthen the party and boost morale of workers. He wanted to know expectations of people and if the party was able to meet them,” he said.

First Published: Jul 08, 2017 21:58 IST