AICC president Rahul Gandhi Friday cleared a list of nine MLAs to be inducted in Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s Cabinet to be expanded on Saturday.
Completing the quorum of 18 ministers, allowed as per the rules, Amarinder would be inducting in his cabinet five-time MLA from Amritsar O P Soni, four-time MLA from Guru Har Sahai, Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, three-time MLAs Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa from Dera Baba Nanak, Gurpreet Singh Kangar from Rampura Phul, Sukhbinder Sarkaria from Raja Sansi and Balbir Singh Sidhu from Mohali.
Two-time MLAs to be inducted into the cabinet are Vijay Inder Singla from Sangrur (one-time MP too), Bharat Bhsuhan Ashu from Ludhiana and Sunder Shyam Arora from Hoshiarpur.
Two ministers of state, Razia Sultana and Aruna Choudhary, have been promoted and would be inducted as cabinet ministers. The swearing-in ceremony would be held at Punjab Raj Bhawan on Saturday.
Punjab already has nine ministers, including the CM. Six have Cabinet rank while two are ministers of state. A total of 10 ministers were sworn in on March 16 last year. With the ouster of Rana Gurjit Singh, former irrigation minister caught in a sand mining row, another vacancy was created.
Sources said Amarinder had his way on getting his close aide Rana Sodhi’s name cleared by Rahul. It is learnt that Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar was against induction of Rana Sodhi, his sworn enemy.
Jakhar was pushing for Randhawa, Sarkaria, Ashu and Kangar. Though Amarinder had to “adjust” Randhawa as he was promised a berth after he opened a front against former revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, he was not much in favour of Ashu. Jakhar was able to get Ashu a berth as he was already in good books of Rahul.
Sidhu and Arora turned out to be surprise entries at the last minute. Sources said Congress Rajya Sabha MP Ambika Soni was able to get a berth secured each for her two loyalists. Since Hoshiarpur district had elected six Congress members out of seven constituencies, it was easier for her to get Arora on board.
Singla was favoured by Amarinder as well as Rahul. Soni, being one of the senior-most MLAs, was the party’s natural choice.
The expansion had disappointment in store for Dr Raj Kumar Verka, a dalit MLA, who was one of the probables.
Punjab Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s close aide Pargat Singh too could not make it to the list. Sidhu had already announced at a function that he was tipped to be the Sports Minister. However, it was learnt that Amarinder was in favour of setting up Sports Authority of Punjab and accommodating him as its chairperson.
Indian Youth Congress president Amrinder Singh Raja Warring too missed out, as did another senior most MLA Rakesh Pandey, who was earlier a minister in Amarinder’s cabinet during 2002-2007.
With three MLAs from Majha appearing on today’s list in Randhawa, Soni and Sarkaria, the region would have the maximum representation in the Cabinet. The state already has three incumbent ministers from the region, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Aruna Choudhary.
The list has four Jat Sikhs in Randhawa, Sarkaria, Sidhu and Kangar, a Khatri Sikh in Rana Sodhi, a Khatri Hindu in Soni, an Arora Hindu in Shyam Sunder Arora, a Brahmin in Ashu, a trader in Singla.
With their induction, cabinet will have eight Jat Sikhs and three Dalits.
In a statement issued in the evening, Amarinder said seniority was the key criteria in the selection of the new ministers and there was total consensus on the names of all the nine inductees.