Six days after Charanjit Singh Channi was enthroned the chief minister of Punjab along with two deputies, Sukhjinder S Randhawa and OP Soni, the Punjab Congress today (Sunday) introduced its new ministry with seven new faces.
The ministry, which has Rahul Gandhi’s stamp all over it, is an attempt to infuse fresh blood in the team, balance caste and regional considerations, and take everyone along without providing ammunition to former CM Capt Amarinder Singh.
Here are the five key takeaways from this rejig:
The new Cabinet has the stamp of Rahul Gandhi all over it. Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi was summoned to Delhi twice, and a final video conference was held late on Saturday night to finalise the list. Six of the seven new ministers were informed by Congress about their imminent elevation on Saturday morning, even before party chief Sonia Gandhi could formally approve the list.
Rahul also played a role in placating Randeep S Nabha, 54, a four-time MLA, by dropping Kuljit Singh Nagra. Considered close to Rahul, Nagra, working president of PCC, was earlier party in-charge for Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim. When Nabha started complaining about being left out of the ministry despite his seniority, Rahul replaced Nagra with him, without any opposition.
Rahul also stood by the elevation of Raja Amrinder Warring, chief of Youth Congress from 2014 to 2018 despite opposition from within. Warring had contested against Manpreet Badal and defeated him.
Similarly, Beant Singh’s grandson Gurkirat Kotli has also been rewarded. Brahm Mohindra, though close to Capt Amarinder, has been retained due to his longstanding ties with the Gandhi family, and his stature as a tall Hindu leader.
Jagroop Singh Sekhon, a political observer, says the party has walked the tightrope to isolate Amarinder. “While it has left out his hardcore supporters such as Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, Balbir Sidhu and the tainted minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, who did not join the rebels, it decided to retain his loyalist Brahm Mohindra because it doesn’t want too many disgruntled leaders trying to join hands with the former CM.”
Baby steps to a generational shift
By elevating Pargat Singh, former captain of the Indian hockey team, Warring and Nabha and giving PPCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu a say in the Cabinet, the party also signals a generational shift. Sidhu has managed to get a berth for all his men except Nagra who is a working president. There was talk about capping the age of the ministers at 70, but it was not carried through because it would have ended up excluding seasoned leaders like Tripat Bajwa and Brahm Mohindra.
At 43, Raja Warring is the youngest in the ministry, while Tripat Bajwa is the oldest at 78. Both had joined hands against Amarinder. Earlier the party had just one minister, Vijay Inder Singla, below fifty, now it has three. Of the seven new faces, only two are senior citizens.
The curious re-entry of Rana Gurjit Singh, the minister who had to quit the Captain Amarinder Cabinet after being caught in a sand mining storm, may have something to do with his stature in the Doaba region. Ashutosh Kumar, a political scientist, says the party hopes that the well-heeled Jat Sikh industrialist along with Pargat Singh will be able to deal with any backlash from the Jat Sikhs in a region dominated by SCs. Rana is also known for his mastery over the electoral system. Much before the BJP started scripting booth-wise poll strategy, Rana was practising it.
With the present rejig, the party now has nine ministers from Malwa, which has 69 seats in the 117-member assembly, seven from the border belt of Majha (25 seats), and three from Doaba (23 seats). With this, the party has addressed the gripe of Majha politicians that despite winning 22 of the 25 seats in the region in 2017, the party had not adequately rewarded its legislators.
The caste card
Well aware that SCs in the state are not a monolithic body, and the mere elevation of Channi as the chief minister may not be enough, the Cabinet has also inducted Raj Kumar Veka, a Valmiki, from Amritsar, and Sangat Singh Gilzian, a grassroots politician from the backward class Lubana community. Aruna Chaudhry, who’s been retained from the previous Cabinet, also belongs to the SC community.
The ministry now has four members from SC and BC communities against three in the previous government.
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