Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, September 26
Seven prominent Congress leaders from Doaba had written to Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu against including Rana Gurjit Singh in the Punjab Cabinet for his alleged involvement in a sand mining scam in the state— ahead of a Cabinet expansion.
Rana Gurjit Singh was re-inducted in the Cabinet.
READ Tribune's investigative series on the sand mining scam here
- Punjab minister’s cook is Rs 26-cr sand mine owner
- Minister’s cook is director of 3 companies too
- Cook’s company gave loan of Rs 50 lakh to Rana Gurjit
Mohinder Singh Kaypee, ex-president Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee; MLAs Navtej Singh Cheema from Sultanpur Lodhi; Balwinder Singh Dhaliwal from Phagwara; Bawa Henry from Jalandhar North; Raj Kumar from Chabbewal; Pawan Adia from Sham Churasi; and Sukhpal Singh Khaira from Bholath—all leaders from Doaba— had written to Sidhu, and marked a copy of the letter to Chief Minister Channi, voicing their opposition to Rana Gurjit Singh’s inclusion.
“We wish to convey a huge resentment amongst the public and the Congress cadre on the proposed inclusion of tainted Rana Gurjeet Singh,” the letter read. “He was dropped from the Cabinet in January 2018 due to the infamous mining allocation scandal involving him, his family, and his companies directly. The Punjab Government had forfeited approximately Rs 25 crore deposited by his front company M/s Rajbir Enterprises for the mining auction of the sites in Punjab. We wonder why Rana Gurjeet Singh is being included in the Cabinet as he was dropped and has got no clean chit from any court or government.”
This campaign against Rana appeared to be led by Khaira, whose recent re-entry into the party Rana had opposed. Khaira rejoined the party in June after a stint with Aam Aadmi Party.
Khaira, meanwhile, faces corruption allegations himself: he’s being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate after a cross-border drug smuggling network was discovered in Fazilka.
The letter to the party also talked about skewed caste dynamics in the proposed Cabinet.
“Apart from the above-stated facts, it is amusing that all the three ministers proposed to be included in the Cabinet from Doaba region are Jatt Sikhs and one is OBC Sikh, whereas there is approximately 38 per cent Dalit population in this region,” the letter said. “Therefore, we all request you to immediately drop Rana Gurjeet Singh from the proposed Cabinet expansion and instead include a clean Dalit face in view of the upcoming elections.”
Four of the seven leaders who’ve written the letter—Kaypee, Chabbewal, Adia, and Dhaliwal—are Dalits.
The disgruntled Congress MLAs also headed to Patiala for a closed-door meeting with Sidhu on Saturday afternoon to make their case just hours before new ministers were sworn in.
“We will oppose this induction and have told our side of the story to Sidhu," an MLA who did not want to be named had said, as the MLAs stepped in to meet Sidhu.
A senior Congress leader cited the case of an MLA whose name was dropped from the list of probables because his name was linked to an illegal mining case in his own constituency.
“They’ve now added someone who was removed on corruption charges. They should understand that polls are only a few months away,” this leader, who also preferred to stay anonymous, said.
The letter, and the meeting, came after some 15 Congress MLAs from Doaba held a meeting and later a signature campaign to bolster their cause.
Congress sources said several legislators from the party had raised similar concerns: that the inclusion of a person facing corruption charges would likely send out wrong signals just before assembly elections and potentially show the party in a bad light.
Rana Gurjit Singh was forced to resign from former chief minister Amarinder Singh’s Cabinet in 2018 after his name began to be linked to a mining scam in the state.
Opposition to Rana Gurjit Singh's reinduction comes only days after Chief Minister Charanjit Channi vowed to end corruption in the state when he was sworn in last week.
Meanwhile, Opposition parties latched on to the controversy. Shiromani Akali Dal (Sanyukt) leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa said his party would strongly oppose the appointment of any "corrupt" leader to the Punjab Cabinet.
Nagra dropped, Randeep Nabha in
Fatehgarh Sahib MLA Kuljit Nagra was replaced by Nabha MLA Randeep Nabha.
The sources attributed the substitution to regional balance and experience.
The last-minute changes were made after Congress president Sonia Gandhi intervened, some sources said.
In a related development, former ministers Balbir Singh Sidhu and Gurpreet Kangar, whose names were dropped from the new cabinet, have asked the party leadership why they have been left out but added they would abide by the party’s decision.
The two leaders, who addressed a press briefing just before cabinet expansion, said it was embarrassing for them to know that they’d been bypassed.
“If the high command had asked us for our resignations, we would have given them. This is embarrassing. We have asked why the high command has ignored us,” the two leaders told the press, as Balbir Singh Sidhu broke down at the press conference.
Both were ministers in the Amarinder Singh cabinet.
Punjab's assembly elections are due in the state early next year.
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