Rana Gurjit Singh, the Punjab minister at the centre of allegations of conflict of interest, is a businessman with interests ranging from distilleries, sugar mills to green power. The state’s richest candidate during the assembly elections — with declared assets of nearly Rs 170 crore, including stakes of Rs 72 crore in his various businesses — Rana Gurjit is nattily dressed. He is widely remembered for a show of temper during the previous assembly: he clashed with then Akali minister Bikram Singh Majithia on the floor of the house, an exchange that saw both using expletives.
A a video clip of the exchange went viral in the state. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is said to have offered him the Kapurthala assembly seat in the 2002 polls, bringing him into public life for the first time. Amarinder has now ordered a judicial probe, to be headed by a retired high court judge, even as he rejected an offer by the minister, whose entry into politics he facilitated, to resign.
Until he contested from Kapurthala, the matriculate, hailing from a family traditionally loyal to the Congress in Bazpur, Uttarakhand, was hardly known in Punjab’s political circles. After winning in 2002, Rana Gurjit went on to serve as the Jalandhar MP — he defeated I K Gujral’s son Naresh Gujral (SAD) in the 2004 elections — and lost the 2009 Lok Sabha battle in Khadoor Sahib. The Kapurthala assembly seat has been with the family since 2002 — with his sister-in-law and wife also having represented it. Rana Gurjit was back in the assembly in 2012.
Rana Gurjit has come under the scanner after four of the 89 sand mines auctioned by the Punjab government on May 19 and 20 have gone to people linked to him, including his former cook, who bagged a sand quarry worth a whopping Rs 26.51 crore.
Besides, Leader of the Opposition H S Phoolka (AAP) has alleged that Rana Sugars — in which the minister and his wife, Rajbans Kaur, hold equity shares — supplies electricity to the Punjab State Power Supply Corporation Limited (PSPCL), an entity of which he is directly in-charge as minister. “Rana Sugars generates 34 MW of which 20 MW is being sold to PSPCL,” Phoolka said.
Amit Bahadur, Rana Gurjit’s former cook, bagged the contract for a mine at Saidpur Khurd village in Nawanshahr, while three other former employees of Rana Sugars Ltd successfully bid for mines worth Rs 4.11 crore, Rs 9.21 crore and Rs 10.58 crore.
Amid Opposition demands for his removal, the minister has sought to distance himself from these deaks: “With businesses in hundreds of crores of rupees, does it make any sense to indulge in a business of a few crores of rupees?” He has also distanced himself from his ex-employees. “There are thousands of employees who have worked with me and left from time to time. I cannot be held accountable for what they do after leaving my companies,” he said in a statement.
Rana Gurjit had earlier resisted the Punjab cabinet’s decision to do away with red beacons. saying some ministers had worked very hard to deserve a red beacon. He fell in line when the chief minister reiterated his resolve to have them banned.