In Punjab’s Congress circles, all eyes right now are on state Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, an estranged nephew of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, and his apparently growing “closeness” to Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh.
While Amarinder’s frequent dinner meetings at Manpreet Badal’s residence in the recent past are often talked about, the latter’s appearance at the chief minister’s birthday bash Monday evening has fuelled more introspection. Manpreet’s presence at the party, which was held at a five-star hotel, holds significance as he, who joined Congress only ahead of the Assembly elections, was among a handful of political leaders present at the private function. It is learnt that he flew to Chandigarh especially for the party.
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Sports Minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, who is often referred to as a member of Amarinder’s “kitchen cabinet”, and CM’s close aides Kewal Dhillon and Kushaldeep Singh Dhillon were also present at the party. Another surprise attendee was MLA Inderbir Singh Bolaria from Amritsar-South. Several officials also attended the party including Chief Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, Suresh Kumar.
Interestingly, none of the other ministers including Rural Development and Urban Development Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa were present. Bajwa is considered Amarinder’s trouble-shooter, sources said. Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar was also absent.
Manpreet’s perceived closeness to the CM is a cause of worry for several leaders, said sources. “I am very surprised. Why would he invite Manpreet? But politics is no less a game of intrigue. We do not know what is happening,” said a senior leader.
A Cabinet minister told The Indian Express that most of the senior officers were present and Cabinet ministers were ignored, “That is why there is a gulf between bureaucrats and ministers in the government. The bureaucrats do not take us seriously. “
The finance minister has been maintaining a non-controversial image in the government. He was nominated by AICC president Rahul Gandhi in the national manifesto committee of the party recently, a development that caused much heartburn to several in the Congress.
It is also claimed that Manpreet was invited for the Kartarpur groundbreaking ceremony in Pakistan, but did not attend following the Chief Minister’s advice.