Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann found himself in a tight spot on Wednesday when he was apparently caught off guard by reporters when asked “what action the AAP government has taken in Cabinet Minister Fauja Singh Sarari’s alleged ‘extortion plan’ case”.
While the CM said that a notice has been served on Sarari in the case and action will be taken against the minister according to the rules following the proper channel, sources added that Sarari could lose his Cabinet rank if found guilty.
While sources also said that Sarari hasn’t had a one-on-one meeting with the CM to date on this issue, ironically, the minister was seen sitting next to Mann and interacting with him while addressing reporters in Ferozepur district where the two had gone to pay tributes to Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary comrades Rajguru and Sukhdev at the National Martyrs’ Memorial in Hussaniwala village on Wednesday.
The Opposition (BJP), too, hit out at the AAP dispensation on its policy on ‘kattar imaandaari’.
“If a notice has been served on Sarari by the party seeking his reply on the ‘extortion audio clip’, what is the CMO doing? Why did the CM allow Sarari to attend today’s function? Sarari is attending Cabinet meetings and the CM is taking people for a ride by giving such statements. This is a party to protect corruption just as it’s doing in Delhi,” said Dr Subhash Sharma, BJP Punjab general secretary.
For the uninitiated, Sarari was purportedly heard in an audio clip discussing a plan to trap some contractors hired for transportation of foodgrain to allegedly extort money from them. The clip had gone viral on September 11 after it was allegedly leaked by his OSD Tarsem Lal Kapoor, who was reportedly upset with the minister for not defending his relative in a police case.
The CM had left for Germany on September 11 for a week-long official tour when the alleged ‘extortion clip’ issue grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons.
As of now, AAP will be waiting for a reply from Sarari as he has been given some time to respond.
According to AAP chief spokesperson Malwinder Singh Kang, the party had initiated an inquiry on September 12 itself but till date it hasn’t come to any conclusion.
When contacted, Kang said, “Yes, we had initiated a party-level inquiry soon after we came to know about the alleged audio clip, but I am not aware about the notice served on Sarari. The CM can explain that in a better way.”
Kang, however, added, “We have zero tolerance for corruption, and I stand by my statement even now. If our fact-finding committee finds him guilty, due action will be taken against him as per law.”
On why action has been delayed, though the audio clip had gone viral on September 11, Kang said, “Sometimes, inquiry has so many angles to be studied. But I reiterate there is no place for corruption in our party.”
Opposition parties like BJP, Congress and SAD had been demanding resignation of Sarari from AAP government.
Meanwhile, in Hussaniwala village, when asked as to why the government was showing double standards while it had taken quick action against health minister Vijay Singla based on an audio recording, the CM evaded this question and instead preferred to answer a question related to former CM Charanjit Singh Channi who had stated that he was available over phone 24×7. “But where is he otherwise? Why is he not coming here, he was the last CM and also the CM candidate as well,” Mann said.
On May 24, Mansa MLA Vijay Singla was sacked from the post of health minister by Punjab CM as, according to the CM, Singla had demanded 1% commission for all tenders floated by health and family welfare department. This was again based on an audio clip which was with the CM only and the public hasn’t even listened to it, while Sarari’s audio clip had gone viral.
Sarari, a retired cop who is a first-time MLA from Guru-Har-Sahai constituency of Ferozepur district, had come under a cloud on September 11 after the audio of his interaction with his OSD went viral on social media.
Sarari, in an interaction with a reporter on September 11, had called it a fake video. He had said, “Everything can be edited and presented in a wrong way. This audio too has been edited.”
The one-minute 40 seconds audio talks about catching the persons when half loading of foodgrain is done in trucks. It also says that a part of the commission should go to district food and civil supplies controller. Also, the truck driver shouldn’t be caught. Another voice which is said to be that of Tarsem Lal Kapoor says that one DRO copy is needed which is issued 15 days before loading of the material and it is difficult to get that copy. The voice at the other end says that “should we gherao on our own”? “No, why should you go?” comes the voice from the other end.
Sarari had also alleged that the ‘edited audio’ had come after an FIR was lodged against the nephew of his OSD, who was once very close and loyal to the minister.