With Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh back in Punjab from his trip abroad, a buzz has started gaining ground over likely reshuffle of the Cabinet, including filling the lone berth that was vacated by Navjot Singh Sidhu in July.
Sources in the Congress said that initially Amarinder wanted to fill the vacant Cabinet seat soon after bypolls to four Assembly seats – Dakha, Jalalabad, Mukerian and Phagwara – and the celebrations to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak were over. While the bypoll results were declared on October 24 – the ruling Congress won three (Jalalabad, Phagwara and Mukerian seats) and the Shiromani Akali Dal Dakha) – the birth 550th Parkash Purab celebrations continued till November 12. Two days later, the CM left for a Europe trip.
“He is back now. The Cabinet aspirants have begun lobbying hard,” said a senior party leader.
Former Minister Rana Gurjit Singh, who had had to resign from the Council of Ministers in January 2018, is among the frontrunners for induction in Cabinet. Rana Gurjit, who then held the Power and Irrigation portfolio, had to resign after it came to fore that a firm, which bagged sand mine contracts in Nawanshahr, had his former cook as a working partner. The firm was also under scanner for borrowing Rs 5 crore from a contractor who was accused of a multi-crore scam in Rana Gurjit ‘s own department. Rana Gurjit had to quit following pressure from high command, including then AICC chief Rahul, Gandhi.
Rana Gurjit, sources within the Congress said, has managed to win over the opposition from various quarters. It remains to be seen whether the party’s state unit chief Sunil Jakhar and the CM would be on the same page over Rana Gurjit’s re-induction.
Sources said two more MLAs – Vidhan Sabha Speaker Rana Kanwarpal Singh and CM’s advisor (planning) Kuljit Singh Nagra – also want to be Cabinet ministers. While the Speaker has been in the queue for a long time, Nagra, it is learnt, has got support from the AICC.
As per the People’s Representation Act, Punjab, with its 177-member Assembly, can have a maximum of 18 Cabinet ministers, including the chief minister.
After Sidhu’s resignation in July, Amarinder had taken charge of the portfolios (Local Bodies and Tourism) that the cricketer-turned-politician was heading. Amarinder had stripped Sidhu of the two key portfolios in a Cabinet rejig and assigned him Power and New & Renewable Energy portfolio. Sidhu had refused to take charge of the departments. The departments are still with the CM.
Some of the CM’s advisors feel that he should delay the Cabinet expansion, especially as some MLAs have been raising voice of dissent against the government. The filling of the lone vacant berth could lead to more heartburn.
“It suits the CM to keep the carrot dangling. This way many would not speak up. However, it is up to the CM to take the final call on the rejig,” said a party leader.
The aspirants, however, are getting jittery, especially over the fact that the current dispensation has just over two years of its five-year tenure left. “A minister requires time to perform well. What would anyone do with the department, if it is handed over at the fag end (of the government’s tenure),” said an aspirant.