Updated: May 25, 2022 7:53:11 am
On Tuesday, Dr Vijay Singla, who held the high-profile portfolio of Health in the Bhagwant Mann-led Cabinet in Punjab, was sacked and arrested for corruption – all in the space of an hour. While Mann called it a reiteration of his government’s commitment to corruption-free governance, and party supremo Arvind Kejriwal tweeted that this action had brought tears to his eyes, it has upended politics in the state, both for the ruling and the opposition parties.
While AAP supporters celebrated the swift termination and arrest of a Cabinet minister as a master stroke that would ensure clean governance down the line, the Opposition called it a tip of the iceberg.
“Kejriwal ji used to say that corruption has stopped in Punjab. Does it mean that they have given birth to it again,” asked BJP president Ashwani Sharma, calling the action a poll gimmick with an eye on the upcoming Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.
The split in the Punjab Congress was wide open as some legislators considered close to former PPCC president Navjot Sidhu praised Mann while others chose to remain silent, and let some spokespersons in Delhi run it down.
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Lauding the CM, Congress MLA Sukhpal Khaira said his “bold action” was a lesson to former CM Capt Amarinder Singh who had chosen not to act against tainted ministers, while former home minister Sukhjinder Randhawa said Mann should now interrogate Amarinder. The former CM, on his part, chose not to react.
Congress spokesperson Alka Lamba, however, referred to the allegations against some AAP legislators in Delhi to accuse the party of double standards.
AAP legislators and ministers, meanwhile, were muted in their reaction, with many choosing to remain mum.
The AAP government came to power in Punjab, much like it did in Delhi in 2013 and 2015, on the promise of providing corruption-free governance with special focus on education, health and employment. It is ironic that it was the health minister, a first-time legislator from Mansa, arguably the wealthiest among the 10 ministers in the state, who fell prey to the corruption taint.
A dentist by profession, Singla, who had defeated pop singer Sidhu Moosewala by over 63,000 votes, was one of the two ministers CM Mann took along with him to Delhi on April 24 for a tour of mohalla clinics and government hospitals. Singla, the first minister from Mansa in three decades, had spoken glowingly about the need to emulate those clinics in Punjab. The Mann government is all set to inaugurate 75 Mohali clinics in the state on August 15.
This is not CM Mann’s first big attack on corruption. Earlier, on March 23, the CM launched a WhatsApp number for all corruption-related complaints, urging people to record anyone seeking a kickback. That’s what he did when he received a complaint against Singla 10 days ago.“With this step, the party has further strengthened its image of being intolerant of corruption. It will certainly send a very good message on the ground,’’ said Ashutosh Kumar, a political scientist.
Others like Dr J S Sekhon, an Amritsar-based political scientist, hope the action will also discipline all those legislators and workers on the ground who had started flexing their muscles. “It’s no secret that the party had given tickets to many turncoats. Of late, some of their actions had started alienating the committed AAP worker. This crackdown will make them fall in line. The message is clear: A CM who does not spare a senior minister will not think twice before acting against a small fry.’’
But politics is not simply about cause and effect; the Opposition has already started floating alternative theories.
State BJP chief Ashwani Sharma dared the CM to act against other complaints on the social media. “Why doesn’t the CM share the complaints he is receiving on his WhatsApp number? Whom are they against? What is the action his government has taken? This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Former Congress minister Raj Kumar Verka, in a video message, alleged that charges had been “framed” against Singla because ministers were not allowed to take commission. “It’s an attack on small fish,’’ he charged.
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