In yet another move that points towards Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal taking the reins of Punjab back into his own hands, he has stripped cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia of the department of NRI affairs and divested Surjit Singh Rakhra of the all-important ministry of rural development and panchayats.
The department of NRI affairs has been handed to Tota Singh, who has also been given back agriculture – the ministry Tota Singh had before he resigned in May 2012.
Dr Daljeet Singh Cheema, the other new entrant in the cabinet, has been given school education while the department of rural development and panchayat has been handed to Sikander Singh Maluka, who was the education minister.
Sohan Singh Thandal, the third new minister, has got the entire set of portfolios held by Sarwan Singh Phillaur who resigned early this month. These include jails, tourism, cultural affairs, archives, museums and printing and stationery.
The stamp of the Lok Sabha elections was visible in the major cabinet portfolio reshuffle that took place on Wednesday. It was felt that the NRI ministry had, despite organising annual NRI sammelans and announcing special facilities for NRIs, failed to enlist their support for the government in the elections.
It was acknowledged by the SAD-BJP alliance that a major push to the AAP campaign in Punjab was given by NRIs. SAD had last week dissolved all its NRI units across the state.
Majithia, however, continues to be the state’s revenue minister as also the minister for non-conventional energy and public relations.
Political analysts added that the party had also taken serious note of its traditional vote bank going down in rural areas in these elections, which seems to have led to a change in minister. Rakhra, who is now the minister for water supply and sanitation, has also been given higher education and languages – earlier held by Maluka – in a bid to compensate for his virtual demotion in the cabinet.
The chief minister is now left with six portfolios out of the 14 he had held earlier, with an exchange in one department with his son Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. While Sukhbir has now got power, the department of civil aviation held by Sukhbir has been taken by the chief minister. The CM is now heading the departments of personnel, general administration, cooperation, science technology and environment, vigilance and civil aviation. Sukhbir now has home, governance reforms, housing and urban development, excise and taxation, investment promotion, sports and power.
The ministries of Janmeja Singh Sekhon and Sharanjit Singh Dhillon have been swapped. Sekhon, who was the irrigation minister, will now be the PWD minister while Dhillon, who was PWD minister, will now be irrigation minister. Sekhon will also be the minister for defence services welfare and removal of grievances and welfare of pensioners, earlier held by Jagir Kaur before her resignation in 2012.
The portfolios of Paraminder Singh Dhindsa, Adaish Pratap Singh Kairon, Ajit Singh Kohar and Gulzar Singh Ranike remain unchanged.