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Friday, October 22, 2021

Who is Bharat Bhushan Ashu, the only minister in new Punjab Cabinet from Ludhiana city

Ashu grew close to Rahul Gandhi after getting in touch with senior Congress leader Kishori Lal and was eventually given a ticket from Ludhiana West — an urban constituency with Hindu voters — for the Punjab Assembly elections in 2012.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana |
Updated: September 27, 2021 9:09:49 am
Ashu’s political clout in Ludhiana grew after senior Congress leader and former Ludhiana MP, Manish Tewari, backed out from contesting the Lok Sabha polls 2014 from Ludhiana, and Ravneet Singh Bittu landed as the parachute candidate. (File)

Beginning his political career as a Congress councilor from Ludhiana in 1997, three-time councilor and two-time MLA, Bharat Bhushan Ashu (50), belongs to a business family that owns dairy farms.

Ashu grew close to Rahul Gandhi after getting in touch with senior Congress leader Kishori Lal and was eventually given a ticket from Ludhiana West — an urban constituency with Hindu voters — for the Punjab Assembly elections in 2012. Ashu won defeating BJP candidate Rajinder Bhandari, despite the SAD-BJP combine managing to sweep to power in the state.

Ashu’s political clout in Ludhiana grew after senior Congress leader and former Ludhiana MP, Manish Tewari, backed out from contesting the Lok Sabha polls 2014 from Ludhiana, and Ravneet Singh Bittu landed as the parachute candidate. Bittu won the polls and eventually, the Ashu-Bittu duo became the face of Ludhiana Congress, replacing Tewari and his aide Pawan Dewan.

Ashu, who never saw eye-to-eye with Manish Tewari, soon became Bittu’s go-to man. Ashu always maintained his ‘with the party’ stand, even as the Captain Amarinder Singh and then PPCC chief Partap Singh Bajwa’s tussle played out.

Later, even when Captain Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu were at loggerheads, Ashu managed to stay clear of the tussle and maintained he was just a ‘party soldier’ without taking any individual sides.

Ashu was later elevated and made deputy leader of Opposition in Vidhan Sabha during the SAD-BJP regime in 2015, overlooking several seniors, such as six-time Ludhiana north MLA, Rakesh Pandey, and others.

In the 2017 Assembly polls, Ashu again won from Ludhiana West with a margin of over 36,000 votes defeating AAP candidate Ahbaab Grewal. During the Punjab Cabinet expansion in 2018, he was made the Food, Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs minister, an elevation that was pushed by Rahul Gandhi himself.

Ashu, however, has had his own share of controversies as well, with the major one being his alleged involvement in the Grand Manor Homes CLU scam and eventually the audio clips of his conversations with DSP Balwinder Sekhon (who was probing the case) going viral. The officer moved court against the minister claiming that he was ‘threatened’ by the minister during the ongoing probe. Denying allegations, Ashu however claimed that the officer had sent him ‘abusive texts’.

It was alleged that Ashu and another Ludhiana Congress leader, Kamaljit Karwal, allegedly helped a private company, building residential flats on Gill road of Ludhiana, and used their political influence in getting them to Change of Land Use (CLU) certificate using forged land ownership papers and their names figured in the probe report submitted by DSP Sekhon to then local bodies minister, Navjot Singh Sidhu, in 2019.

The case even led to the fallout between Ashu and Sidhu, who had quipped, ‘Mantri ho ya santri, sabko thokunga’. (Be it a minister or anyone, I won’t spare any one), when the Opposition AAP and SAD questioned Sidhu in Vidhan Sabha over the action taken by him against Ashu on the report submitted by the DSP. While AAP had staged a walk-out from the House demanding the sacking of the minister on the basis of audio clips in which Ashu was purportedly ‘threatening’ DSP, then CM, Captain Amarinder Singh, defended Ashu in the House and said that he won’t take any arbitrary action against the minister without any evidence. Ashu had said he was open to any inquiry and claimed that the DSP was abusing him for over three months. The DSP was later dismissed from service.

Eventually, Sidhu was divested of the local bodies portfolio, marking his exit from Captain’s Cabinet after he refused to accept the role of the Power Minister in June 2019.

In the same year, in February 2019, another audio clip of Ashu had gone viral in which he was purportedly heard talking to Rakesh Garg, a superintending engineer of Ludhiana Improvement Trust (LIT) about the construction of a road on an ‘encroached’ street in the minister’s constituency. While the official said that the road has to be constructed as per High Court orders, Ashu was heard shouting at him and saying that instead of the court, he should follow his orders and stop construction of the road immediately. He also told the engineer to proceed on leave if he was so scared of court orders.

Ashu had claimed that both episodes were a ‘conspiracy’ against him to defame the party ahead of Lok Sabha polls 2019.

Right now, Ashu is unofficially the face of Ludhiana Congress, for his proximity to Rahul Gandhi, and remains the party’s preference as Hindu face over much senior veterans like six-time Ludhiana north MLA Rakesh Pandey and three-time Ludhiana central MLA, Surinder Dawar.

His wife Mamta Ashu is also a local councillor. She is now adding to Ashu’s clout in Ludhiana by unofficially looking after Smart City projects and Covid vaccination drive – sometimes even at the cost of surpassing the Ludhiana Mayor and other senior officials.

Known for his no-nonsense and straightforward attitude, Ashu had once asked a district education officer (DEO) to leave the premises immediately after she arrived late for a school function and students were asked to repeat their performance to please her. He had said that an officer’s presence was not required at all if he/she couldn’t come in time.

He is currently the face behind major development projects in Ludhiana such as Buddha Nullah rejuvenation, Sidhwan Canal revamps. He was retained in the cabinet of CM Charanjit Singh Channi and took oath Sunday.

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