Punjab Cabinet expansion: 15 Cong MLAs take oath as ministers; Rana Gurjit in despite objection by legislators

Nine ministers represent Malwa, three Doaba and six Majha regions; two Deputy CMs from Majha region

 Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 26

With barely five months to go for assembly elections, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi on Sunday inducted 15 ministers, dropping five Amarinder Singh loyalists from the previous ministry.

While 15 ministers took oath today, CM Channi and Deputy CM Sukhjinder Randhawa and OP Soni were sworn in last week.

Brahm Mohindra was the first one to take oath, followed by Manpreet Badal.

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Despite pressure from party MLAs against Rana Gurjit Singh, the former Irrigation minister and three-time MLA was reinducted.

Four-time MLA from Nabha Randeep Nabha replaced Fatehgarh Sahib MLA Kuljit Nagra at the last hour.

The exercise, which has Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s stamp all over it, saw seven new faces finding a place in the Cabinet.

The Congress had in mind social and regional equations in the induction of ministers with AICC general secretary Harish Rawat dubbing it as a “balanced cabinet”.

The Cabinet expansion came a week after Amarinder Singh resigned as chief minister following a bitter power tussle with Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and was replaced by Channi.

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The new faces in the Channi Ministry are Randeep Singh Nabha, Raj Kumar Verka, Sangat Singh Gilzian, Pargat Singh, Amarinder Singh Raja Warring and Gurkirat Singh Kotli.

Rana Gurjit Singh has made a comeback, having resigned in 2018 from the Amarinder Singh Ministry after facing flak from the Opposition over allegations of impropriety in the auction of sand mining contracts.

He has been re-inducted despite a section of Congress legislators objecting to his name for the ministerial berth.

The name of four-time MLA Nabha was confirmed at the last hour as earlier the name of Kuljit Singh Nagra was considered final in the list of new faces, according to sources.

Nagra later in a tweet said he had decided not to be part of the Cabinet.

Among the new entrants, Verka belongs to the Scheduled Castes community and Gilzian is from other backward classes (OBC).

Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit administered the oath of office and secrecy to the legislators at a ceremony here.

Brahm Mohindra, Manpreet Singh Badal, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Aruna Chaudhary, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, Razia Sultana, Vijay Inder Singla and Bharat Bhushan Ashu, who were ministers in the previous Amarinder Singh government, were retained.

Rana Gurjit Singh, Mohindra and Singla are considered close to Amarinder Singh.

Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, Balbir Singh Sidhu, Gurpreet Singh Kangar and Sunder Sham Arora, who were ministers in the Amarinder Singh-led cabinet, did not find a place in the new ministry.

In the cabinet, nine ministers represent Malwa, three Doaba and six Majha regions. Two deputy chief ministers were from the Majha region.

After the Cabinet expansion, now all eyes will be on the allocation of portfolios.

Jalandhar Cantt legislator Pargat Singh, considered close to the party’s state unit chief Navjot Sidhu, is the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee general secretary.

Pargat, who is a former Indian Hockey Captain, had targeted Amarinder Singh over unfulfilled promises and had even accused Amarinder’s former political secretary of threatening him.

Raj Kumar Verka, a legislator from Amritsar-West, belongs to the Scheduled Caste community.

Gurkirat Singh Kotli, 47, MLA from Khanna, is a grandson of former chief minister Beant Singh. He had faced trial in the 1994 case of abduction and molestation of a French tourist. In 1999, he was acquitted in the case.

Sangat Singh Gilzian, a three-time legislator and presently representing Urmar constituency in Hoshiarpur district, belongs to the OBC community and is also presently Punjab Congress working president.  A youth face Amarinder Singh Raja Warring is a legislator from Gidderbaha and is considered close to Navjot Sidhu.

He had defeated Manpreet Singh Badal, who had then floated his own party, in 2012 from Gidderbaha. He had remained Youth Congress president from 2014 till 2018.

Randeep Singh Nabha is a four-time legislator and is presently representing the Amloh constituency.

Channi’s two deputies Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and OP Soni were sworn in on Monday.

However, the discontent in the faction-ridden party appeared to be far from over.

Hours before the ceremony, Balbir Singh Sidhu and Gurpreet Singh Kangar held a joint news conference where they questioned the decision to drop them.

Balbir Sidhu even broke down while asking “What is my fault?” while Kangar too posed the same question.

Sodhi was vocal in supporting Amarinder Singh during the internal rift in the party. He had faced criticism from the Opposition over a land compensation case.

Dharamsot, Arora, Sidhu and Kangar too had been targeted by the Opposition over various allegations leveled against them, and the Congress intends to correct the negative narrative against the government by removing them ahead of the assembly polls.

Talking to reporters after the oath-taking ceremony, Rawat congratulated the new ministers and extended best wishes to Channi for a good beginning.

To a question on Balbir Sidhu and Gurpreet Kangar, who were dropped from the ministry, Rawat said, “We have decided that those who could not be accommodated in the Cabinet, they will be adjusted in the party and government set-up because there is a lot of work, they will be given responsibilities. Nobody is left out.”

“Seven new faces have been included and to create social and regional balance, this exercise has been done. The party has not left anyone, but the areas of their service will change and they will be deputed at other services both in the government and outside,” he said.

Among those inducted in cabinet include youth faces, he said adding that representation has been given to the Scheduled Caste community and Backward Classes.

“We have tried to ensure a social balance. This is a balanced cabinet,” he said.

Asked if Amarinder Singh is upset with the party, Rawat said, “There is nothing like that. If anything is there, he will be mollified and a way will be found out.”

The names for cabinet expansion were finalised after Channi, Navjot Sidhu and other leaders had held deliberations over the past few days with the party’s senior leadership including Rahul Gandhi.

Channi was handpicked as Punjab’s first Scheduled Caste chief minister following the unceremonious exit of Congress veteran Amarinder Singh.

A total of 18 MLAs, including the chief minister, can be included in the cabinet. With PTI

Brahm Mohindra
Manpreet Badal
Rana Gurjit Singh

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