Days after a luncheon meeting with PPCC president Sunil Jakhar and other party colleagues, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh on Monday hosted Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal and Technical Education Minister Charanjeet Singh Channi for lunch, in an attempt to “thaw” the tension between them and Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh.
Monday’s meeting also took place minus the chief secretary as Manpreet Badal told The Indian Express, “The chief minister had indicated that the chief secretary will be present at the meeting. We requested him that we were against his presence. The chief minister was kind enough to concede to our request.”
He went on to add that the issue of ministers versus chief secretary was broached at the meeting, “but we told the chief minister that the decision to boycott the chief secretary was taken unanimously by all ministers in the Cabinet meeting. Let the ministers take a call on this in another Cabinet meeting. We also told him that it was not fair that only two ministers decide on the next course of action on the CS.”
Asked what would be Manpreet Badal’s decision if the Cabinet decides to bury the hatchet with the Karan Avtar Singh, he said, “We will see.”
Manpreet was the first one to walk out of a meeting on excise when the ministers were being briefed by the chief secretary and he allegedly “misbehaved” with Manpreet and Channi. All other ministers later followed Manpreet and they unanimously decided to boycott the chief secretary at a subsequent Cabinet meeting. It was after this that the clamour for his removal started.
Sources said that now the CM will have to call the next Cabinet meeting and the fate of chief secretary will be known then. But as a matter of record, three ministers including Balbir Sidhu, O P Soni and Bharat Bhushan Ashu have already attended a meeting with him present. Later Cabinet Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and PPCC chief Sunil Jakhar along with three MLAs had met the CM over lunch. While the minister and MLAs have gone quiet since then, Jakhar had come on record to say that the matter was not sorted out yet and that they had left it to the CM.
Manpreet Badal’s visiting CM’s residence alongwith Channi left many curious about what would be the Cabinet’s next move. Sources close to Amarinder said that the matter had almost been resolved and both the ministers were taken on board by the CM. Manpreet Badal however said, “The CM had called me to his residence to offer condolence for my father’s passing away. I was in Badal all these days. We were mourning and I came back yesterday. The CM could not come to Badal due to the pandemic. Several other issues also came up. The CM then broached the CS and I told him I could not bury the hatchet with chief secretary on my own, as it was not my decision alone to boycott him.”
The chief secretary had however met Manpreet Badal at his native Badal village where he had gone to pay condolences after his father’s demise.
The meeting was also attended by Cabinet Minister and Amarinder’s aide Rana Gurmit Sodhi and Anandpur Sahib MP Manish Tiwari. Sodhi had already met the chief secretary after the row.
The state Congress is abuzz with speculation that not only will the CM not let Karan Avtar Singh go, he will also appoint him chairperson of a panel to be set up in the state. The chief secretary is slated to retire in August.
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