Balwant Singh Ramoowalia is a former union minister and a long-term aide of Parkash Singh Badal. (PTI Photo)
In a major jolt for the Shiromani Akali Dal, senior party leader Balwant Singh Ramoowalia who is a long-term aide of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, quit the party today and joined Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's government as a minister. Mr Ramoowalia is a former union minister and was the senior vice-president of the party.
"I sent my resignation today morning to the party president," Mr Ramoowalia told NDTV over phone from Lucknow soon after the swearing-in ceremony, adding that he took the decision because he was "repeatedly humiliated in the Akali Dal by the leadership and it had become difficult for me to continue any further."
Mr Ramoowalia's exit has come as a huge embarrassment to the Akali Dal at a time when the party is facing the heat from Sikh hardline groups over the manner in which the Badal government has handled recent incidents of sacrilege of holy book Guru Granth Sahib.
Attacking the state government over the controversy, Mr Ramoowalia said it has failed to maintain law and order situation in the state. Attacking him in response, the Akali Dal accused Mr Ramoowalia of "political opportunism" and said he was "power hungry."
Mr Ramoowalia had dissolved his Lok Bhalai Party into the Akali Dal in 2011 just ahead of assembly elections in Punjab and unsuccessfully contested the polls from Mohali. He has had a close association with the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister's father and Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. He had left the Akali Dal to become a Rajya Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh and became a minister in the Janata Dal government between 1996 and 1998.
Mr Ramoowalia's induction into the Samajwadi Party is being seen as an attempt by Mulayam Singh to woo Sikh voters in UP's Tarai region ahead of the 2017 polls.
He was among the 12 new faces inducted as ministers in the Uttar Pradesh government today. Yesterday, the chief minister had sacked eight ministers and took away the portfolios of another nine. Total 21 ministers, including those who have been promoted, took oath at Raj Bhawan today.
The new-look ministry is seen as part of the ruling Samajwadi Party's preparations for the next assembly elections due in 2017. The 44-year-old chief minister had reportedly conducted a detailed assessment of all ministries in the state and non-performers were axed.