Punjab's new Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi today added six new faces to his cabinet and dropped some from his predecessor's team. The new ministerial team has 15 members in all. The expansion, coming months ahead of the state Assembly polls, has already sparked resentment among those dropped and also over the return of a scandal-tainted MLA dropped earlier.
The ministers taking oath of office today are: Brahm Mohindra, Manpreet Singh Badal, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Sukhbindr Singh Sarkaria, Rana Gurjeet Singh, Aruna Chaudary, Razia Sultana, Bharat Bhushan Ashu, Vijay Inder Singla, Randeep Singh Nabha, Raj Kumar Verka, Sangat Singh Gilzian, Pargat Singh, Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, Gukrirat Singh Kotli.
Brahm Mohindra, a prominent Hindu, is the senior-most leader of the Punjab Congress. He is older than even former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh in terms of association with the party. He was Local Bodies Minister in Mr Singh's cabinet.
Mr Nabha, Mr Verka, Mr Gilzian, Pargat Singh, Mr Warring, and Mr Kotli are completely new to the job.
The induction of Mr Kotli, grandson of former Chief Minister Beant Singh, was opposed by the opposition parties Shiromani Akali Dal and Aam Admi Party. He had faced trial in the 1994 case of abduction and molestation of a French tourist, but was acquitted in 1999.
Rana Gurjeet Singh, on the other hand, was part of former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh's team earlier but was dropped in January 2018 following a sand mining scandal involving him and his family. He is among the richest MLAs of Punjab.
Hours ahead of the swearing-in ceremony scheduled for today, six MLAs wrote to state Congress chief Navjot Sidhu to protest the "proposed inclusion" of Mr Singh in the new cabinet.
"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 election," the MLAs wrote.
Besides Chief Minister Channi himself, the new cabinet also has Mr Verka from the Scheduled Caste community. The Congress is evidently focused on next year's election, one in which the estimated 31 per cent of Dalit votes in the state are expected to play a key role.
In fact, when it was his turn to take oath today, Mr Verka specifically referred to the constitution as the one "drafted by BR Ambedkar".
Resentment, meanwhile, was not restricted to the matter of his inclusion, though. Some of those dropped from the team, too, have expressed their disappointment.
"What was my mistake? I want to ask the party high command why my name was not considered for the new cabinet. My exemplary work during Covid was even quoted by an MP in the Canadian Parliament," said outgoing state Health Minister Balbir Sidhu.
https://t.co/ajfRHOBNIZ— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) September 26, 2021
Who should be a Minister or should not be is CM's prerogative.
However I am constrained to point out that @BalbirSinghMLA ( Sidhu Sahib) as Health Minister went way beyond call of duty during the worst days of COVID-19.His selflessness was unparalleled.
Gurpreet Singh Kangar, dropped as Revenue Minister, too, sought to give vent to his "anguish".
The Congress's Punjab in-charge, Harish Rawat, however, struck a conciliatory note. "Those who have been left out of cabinet will be suitably accommodated in the government," he told ANI.
Chief Minister Channi and party leader Rahul Gandhi met via a video call on Saturday, party insiders said, to finalise the new list. The two have met thrice in New Delhi since Mr Channi took oath last week, becoming Punjab's first ever Dalit Sikh Chief Minister.