M A I N   N E W S

Badal sacks a defiant Manpreet
n Day after suspension from party, Punjab CM says retaining him in the Cabinet would be morally and politically untenable
n Manpreet to ignore show-cause notice, expects expulsion
n Sukhbir says he is pained but party is above all
n Manpreet’s father speaks out
Naveen S Garewal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, October 13
The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal was plunged into a fresh political crisis on Wednesday with Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal dropping his nephew and Finance Minister Manpreet Badal from the cabinet and the latter severing his ties with the party. “It is no longer the Shiromani Akali Dal I have known,” said a bitter Manpreet Badal at a press conference. “It is now Sukhbir’s Akali Dal,” he said while referring to his cousin and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.

While senior leaders of SAD tried everything to put up a ‘business as usual’ facade, and the state government announced a financial bonanza for the employees to gloss over the crisis, the presence of as many as three ruling party MLAs by the side of Manpreet would cause concern to the leadership.

While only time will tell if other SAD MLAs join the rank of the rebels, the presence of Charanjit Singh Channi (independent), Sant Ajit Singh, Jagbir Brar and Manjinder Kang (all SAD) at the residence of the ‘sacked’ finance minister sent ripples through the party and the leaders lost little time in launching a rearguard action to win them back. Also conspicuous by his presence was the sacked minister’s father, Gurdass Singh Badal, who happens to be the Chief Minister’s younger brother.

The Chief Minister’s office said in a cryptic note on Wednesday morning that in deference to the unanimous recommendation of the SAD disciplinary committee, the CM had recommended to the Governor that Manpreet Badal be dropped from the ministry. In view of his suspension from the party, the statement added, the continuance of Manpreet Badal had become untenable.

The Chief Minister has retained departments of Finance, Planning and Programme Implementation, held by the dropped minister.

Manpreet Badal, who returned from New Delhi this morning, also claimed to have forwarded his resignation to the Chief Minister and the Governor. While Governor Shivraj Patil was away to Tirupati on a pilgrimage, he had spoken to the Governor on phone and informed him of his resignation, added the former finance minister.

He could barely hide his bitterness while alleging that his telephones are tapped and his house is bugged. It, however, no longer mattered what came first, his resignation or his dismissal because he was finished with Akali Dal, he declared.

His residence, which looked desolate in the morning, filled up on his return with mediamen jostling with his supporters from his constituency and a few former MLAs.

Rubbishing charges of indiscipline and anti-party activities, for which he had been suspended yesterday from the party, Manpreet Badal declared that he was guilty of no such thing. He produced a sheaf of documents in support of his contention that talks were indeed being held with the Centre on the possibility of waiving a substantial part of Punjab’s growing debt.

The defiant former minister declared that he would not be responding to the show cause notice issued to him by the party, as he had decided to part ways with the SAD. “My expulsion form the party was expected and a logical fallout of the events over the past fortnight,” said an emotional Manpreet.

“I was born an Akali, my conscience and soul are Akali. The SAD was my religion till it remained under the command of my uncle Parkash Singh Badal, but under Sukhbir the party atmosphere has become stifling. Believe me, I am finished with SAD, the party I left today is not the Akali Dal I grew up in, this is Sukhbir’s Akali Dal”, he added.

Demanding Sukhbir’s resignation for “misleading the people and the party on the debt-waiver issue” he added, “I will now go to the people; knock at every home, if need be and seek their support to take Punjab out of the present financial debt”.

As finance minister, he had raised his concerns over the rising debt Punjab faced. “As finance minister if I don’t talk about finance then what do I talk about ?” he wondered aloud, adding, “Even though I have left the job, I would appeal to the Chief Minister to take an approval in the next cabinet to continue the dialogue with the Centre to get Punjab’s debt waived. It is in the interest of Punjab to rid its future generations of debt”.

Manpreet’s ouster from the government has caused a vertical split in the Badal family, which has remained at the helm of SAD affairs ever since chief minister Parkash Singh Badal took over its command. Manpreet’s departure from the party at this juncture, which started as a war of succession within the Badal clan, is unlikely to bring curtains down on the war of succession though. It may have just begun.




Won’t play second fiddle
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, October 13
Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal today bowed out from the cabinet over the debt-waiver issue. But before quitting he didn’t forget to mention that he was not ready to play second fiddle to his cousin and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.

This admission is what political analysts say is responsible for the crisis within the SAD and finally, Manpreet’s ouster. This theory gains ground from the fact that the issue of financial management was something Manpreet has been raising for three years now. It was only when Manpreet mixed politics with finance and kept on upping the ante that the SAD reacted.

Manpreet today claimed that he was walking a tightrope on the issue of the state’s finances. However, analysts say things began getting bad when he started pinpricking Sukhbir while ostensibly talking about financial matters.

There is a belief that ties between the two went from bad to worse when the word spread that Sukhbir was likely to be coronated as chief minister in November. The Sukhbir camp says Manpreet immediately got into attack mode to stop this development and that the entire crisis was a result of attempts to ensure Parkash Singh Badal remained in the Chief Minister’s chair for the remaining one-and-a-half-year term of the SAD-BJP government.

The sources claim that the Chief Minister’s hand was forced when Manpreet refused to relent and kept up his attack on Sukhbir, whom he had already derided by questioning his “corporate style” of functioning in an interview to a section of the media.

Now, with the cards on the table finally, Manpreet is likely to continue his battle against Sukhbir. He announced today that he would take his views to the people. His views on the issue of debt waiver and the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the SAD to go ahead with it are all planned to sow an adverse impression of Sukhbir in the public.

The former Finance Minister’s advantages are that he has created an alternative to Sukhbir and now will be hoping that all those not happy under the present dispensation will rally around him. He has already got four legislators, one of whom is a relative (Jagbir Singh Brar) while others are disgruntled with the SAD leadership. He also has the ability to achieve an emotional connect with people.

Manpreet will also be going to the people urging them to work to regain the prestige of Punjab, indicating the present regime has undermined it. He is also expected to drum up the financial issues, including that of loan waiver, which needs to be addressed to set things “right” in Punjab.

However, the former FM will be appealing to the Akali vote bank as he claims even his soul is Akali. It is here that he has an uphill task with the entire rank and file of the party solidly behind his cousin Sukhbir.




Game of numbers begins
Naveen S Garewal
Tribune News Service

A pensive Sukhbir Badal attending a function in Bathinda.
A pensive Sukhbir Badal attending a function in Bathinda. Photo: Pawan Sharma

Chandigarh, October 13
Manpreet Badal’s sack as Punjab’s Finance Minister has started what can be best described as the “game of numbers” that is essential for any political party to remain on the treasury benches. Though, the SAD-BJP government is firmly in the saddle, it cannot take the situation to be as comfortable as before.

Four other legislators have come out openly in support of the former finance minister and at least three more are contemplating, but have not made any announcement yet.

Every head count that favours Manpreet is a signal for the ruling alliance that should sound an alarm. As of today, Manpreet is only six away from the “magical 11” that he requires for “avenging” his ouster. This situation, which is very uncomfortable for the ruling alliance has forced the party leadership to keep a close watch on all those with grievances within the party.

The SAD-BJP alliance needs 59 legislators to maintain its simple majority in a House of 117. Out of the 117 legislators the SAD had 50, but with Manpreet likely to be expelled from the party, it will have a strength of 49. The BJP, which is in alliance with the SAD, has 19 legislators, while the Congress has 43.

The remaining five are Independents. Out of these, the SAD claimed the support of three and the Congress that of two. But Chanranjit Channi, who was one of the three Independent legislators, has joined Manpreet leaving the SAD with only two Independents to support it.

As of now legislators Sant Ajit Singh (Anandpur Sahib), Jagbir Singh Brar (Jalandhar Cantt), Manjinder Singh Kang (Beas) and Charanjit Singh Channi and an Independent from Chamkaur Sahib have thrown their lot behind Manpreet. Three others from two from Doaba and one from Malwa have indicated that they could join Manpreet.

The delimitation of constituencies that has new areas carved out of old constituencies led to creation of new Assembly segments and in many cases reserved or de-reserved Vidhan Sabha seats is bound to change political alignments. Many politicians, who do not see a future in the present setup, could consider switching side.

The expulsion of Manpreet is unlikely to end embarrassment for the SAD, but it is a matter of time before the new political equations unfolds, many are not going to be very comfortable for the ruling SAD-BJP alliance or for that matter, for the SAD.





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