CAPTAIN AMARINDER Singh will be sworn in as the chief minister of Punjab on March 16 along with nine ministers. Amarinder met Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi on Tuesday to finalise the names for the Cabinet. Sources said there are no plans to have a deputy chief minister as of now. Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was being tipped for that post, will be the “senior most” among the ministers.
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“As of now, there has been no discussion on the post of deputy CM. It is unlikely there will be any such post,” said an AICC leader. There was no necessity for a deputy CM, the AICC leader said, adding that by convention, the next senior minister in the Cabinet after the Chief Minister officiates in his absence.
Sources said all the nine ministers who will take oath along with Amarinder are veteran MLAs. They said young leaders, including some close to Rahul, may get a look-in only when the ministry is expanded.
Among those to be sworn in on Thursday are former Akali finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal, seniormost Congress legislator Brahm Mohindra, four-time MLA Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, and Punjab’s wealthiest MLA Rana Gurjit Singh. CLP leader Charanjit Singh Channi and Nabha MLA Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, both Dalits, are also likely to be included in the Cabinet.
Two women MLAs, Aruna Chaudhary and Razia Sultana, will be appointed ministers of state. During his last tenure, Amarinder did not have any minister of state. The previous SAD-BJP government too did not any junior minister. The junior minister posts will enable Amarinder to accommodate more of his MLAs in positions beyond the 15 per cent rule on Cabinet size.
Rana Kanwar Pal Singh is likely to be the Speaker. Sources said the names were cleared by Rahul, who has apparently given Amarinder a free hand in choosing his team.
After meeting Rahul on Tuesday, Amarinder, however, said, “Today was a courtesy call. Myself and our AICC secretary in charge will sit together and prepare a list. Then we will come again… we will then discuss the government formation with our party leadership.” Rahul credited Amarinder for the party’s performance in Punjab, sources said.
Congress general secretary in-charge of Punjab Asha Kumari said: “Nine or 10 ministers will be sworn in on Thursday. Amarinder has decided to expand the Cabinet later. Rahulji has left it all to Amarinder. We have full faith in our chief minister. He will have a balanced Cabinet with fair representation of all castes, communities and regions.”
She said Rahul would attend Amarinder’s oath-taking ceremony, which the CM-designate has decided to keep a “low-key” affair in view of the financial crisis that his government has inherited from the previous government. “He has decided not to have a big swearing-in tamasha,” she said.
“We have invited chief ministers of all six Congress-ruled states as well as former chief ministers. As of now, I know Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and Rahulji will attend in the ceremony. If all invitees grace the occasion, I would be personally delighted,” she said.
Sources said Amarinder was likely to keep with him the departments of Home, General Administration and Personnel. There is intense lobbying within the party for the rest of the portfolios. Amarinder loyalists Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi and Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa are among others being considered for the remaining berths. Dr Raj Kumar Verka, a Dalit MLA, is another contender.