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Govt jobs for MLAs’ sons: the new fracas in Punjab Congress, explained

Government jobs for the sons of two Punjab MLAs has triggered a storm in the Punjab Congress. What is the controversy? Was there a political angle too to the government's decision? What now?

Written by Kanchan Vasdev , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
June 25, 2021 9:16:20 am
AAP leaders and para athletes gherao Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh's residence in Chandigarh on Thursday, protesting against the government "for ignoring para athletes who make the country proud" and instead offering government jobs to sons of Congress MLAs. (Express Photo)

Government jobs for the sons of two Punjab MLAs, Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa and Rakesh Pandey, on compassionate grounds, has triggered a storm in the Punjab Congress.

Five Ministers opposed the decision in the Cabinet, and Congress leaders in the state have complained to Rahul Gandhi. Both the government and the two MLAs have been widely criticised.

What is the controversy over the sons of the two MLAs getting government jobs?

The state government recently tweaked rules to give jobs to the sons of Qadian (Gurdaspur) MLA Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa and Ludhiana North MLA and former Minister Rakesh Pandey on compassionate grounds.

Bajwa’s younger son Arjun Partap Singh Bajwa was offered the post of Inspector in Punjab Police, and Pandey’s middle son Bhisham Pandey was offered the job of Naib Tehsildar.

The government stated that Arjun was given the job 34 years after his grandfather, Satnam Singh Bajwa, was killed by terrorists.

Bhisham’s grandfather, Joginder Pal Pandey, was also killed by terrorists in 1987.

While the government provides jobs to the children of victims of terrorists on compassionate grounds, it had tweaked the rules to provide jobs to grandsons — that too, more than three decades after their deaths.

Did the MLAs apply for these jobs for their sons?

Yes, both MLAs had applied in 2017 — soon after the state government tweaked rules to appoint the grandson of former Chief Minister Beant Singh and the brother of the Congress MP from Ludhiana Ravneet Singh Bittu, Guriqbal Singh, as a DSP in Punjab Police.

Beant Singh had been assassinated by a car bomb in 1995; the two MLAs cited this precedent to ask for jobs for their sons, stating that their (the MLAs’) fathers too had been victims of terrorists.

In the case of Bittu’s brother Guriqbal, the government had also relaxed the maximum age limit for appointment.

Was there a political angle too to the government’s decision?

Five-time MLA Rakesh Pandey — who was at one time a close aide of Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, the Congress Chief Minister of Punjab from 1996-97 — had been upset with Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh for denying him a ministerial berth.

After a group of ministers and MLAs rebelled against Amarinder, Pandey was being seen as aligning with the rebel faction.

The other MLA, Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa, is the younger brother of Congress Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa, a known Amarinder Singh baiter.

Fateh was seen in the earliest meetings of the rebel camp.

Eyebrows had been raised after the applications for the sons of the two MLAs were received soon after Beant Singh’s grandson was appointed. However, these applications were taken up only recently.

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Under what circumstances were the rules finally changed?

Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Anurag Agarwal had objected to the appointment of Arjun Partap Singh Bajwa. He had returned the file to the Chief Minister’s Office several times with objections, saying the rules did not permit his appointment.

Arjun’s grandfather had been killed three decades ago — and the Supreme Court has ruled that jobs on compassionate grounds must be given within a timeframe.

Also, as per the rules, a job on compassionate grounds can be given only if the job seeker had been dependent on the person who had died — or if the family is poor.

Since none of the criteria were applicable in this case, the file was finally sent to the Cabinet for approval. It was passed by the Cabinet with five Ministers opposing it.

What happens from here onward?

Many in Congress circles believe that the government only wanted to leave the two MLAs embarrassed by doing them a favour, so they would find it difficult to raise the banner of revolt against the Chief Minister.

This seemed to follow a pattern — two years ago, six MLAs who had criticised Amarinder were appointed Advisors to the Chief Minister after the Office of Profit law was amended in the Vidhan Sabha. However, the Punjab Governor never gave assent to the amendment — which left the MLAs in the lurch and embarrassed.

Against this background, the offer of jobs to Arjun and Bhisham would appear to be a similar “masterstroke” by the Chief Minister to silence his detractors.

However, the CM has ended up inviting widespread criticism in the process — from his ministerial colleagues, the Congress high command, and even the people of the state.

The party’s central leadership has now intervened — and Harish Rawat, the Congress general secretary in charge of Punjab, has said that he has spoken to both MLAs, and that Fateh had agreed to decline the offer.

Fateh himself has announced that his son, who has been trying his luck in Bollywood, would not be taking up the job.

Pandey, however, is yet to respond to Rawat’s appeal. His son, who is looking after his business, too has not spoken.

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