Punjab's New Chief Minister Has A Larger Cabinet To Choose From

Expansion of the Punjab Cabinet: Punjab's cabinet enlargement comes just months before the state's 2022 Assembly elections.

Punjab's New Chief Minister Has A Larger Cabinet To Choose From
Punjab's New Chief Minister Has A Larger Cabinet To Choose From

Punjab's new Chief Minister, Charanjit Singh Channi, today announced the addition of six new cabinet members and the dismissal of some from his predecessor's team. The new ministerial team comprises a total of 15 members. The expansion, which comes months before the state Assembly elections, has already prompted animosity among those who were dropped, as well as the return of a scandal-tainted MLA who was previously dropped.

Today's oath-takers are Brahm Mohindra, Manpreet Singh Badal, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Sukhbindr Singh Sarkaria, Rana Gurjeet Singh, Aruna Chaudary, Razia Sultana, Bharat Bhushan Ashu, Vijay Inder Singla, Randeep Singh Nabha, Raj Kumar Verka, Sangat Singh Gilzian, Pargat Singh, Amarinder Singh Raj 

Brahm Mohindra, a renowned Hindu, is the Punjab Congress's most senior leader. In terms of party affiliation, he is older than even former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. In Mr Singh's government, he was the Minister of Local Bodies. 

Mr Nabha, Mr Verka, Mr Gilzian, Mr Pargat Singh, Mr Warring, and Mr Kotli are all new to the position. The induction of Mr Kotli, grandson of former Chief Minister Beant Singh, was opposed by the opposition parties Shiromani Akali Dal and Aam Admi Party. In 1994, he was charged with kidnapping and molestation of a French tourist, but he was acquitted in 1999. 

Rana Gurjeet Singh, on the other side, was previously a member of former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh's team but was fired in January 2018 after a sand mining controversy involving him and his family. He is one of Punjab's wealthiest MLAs. Six MLAs wrote to state Congress chairman Navjot Sidhu hours before today's swearing-in ceremony to express their displeasure with Mr Singh's "proposed inclusion" in the new ministry.

"We all request you to immediately drop Rana Gurjeet Singh from the proposed cabinet expansion and instead include a clean Dalit face in view of the upcoming election," the MLAs wrote.

Mr Verka, a member of the Scheduled Caste caste, joins Chief Minister Channi in the new administration. The Congress is focusing on next year's election, which is projected to be dominated by the estimated 31% of Dalit votes in the state. Mr Verka referred to the constitution as "written by BR Ambedkar" when it was his turn to take the oath today. 

However, his resentment was not limited to the issue of his admission. Some of those who were cut from the team have also expressed their dissatisfaction. "What did I do wrong?" I'd like to inquire as to why my name was not considered for the next government by the party's top command. My exemplary work during Covid was even quoted by an MP in the Canadian Parliament," said outgoing state Health Minister Balbir Sidhu.

Gurpreet Singh Kangar dropped as Revenue Minister, too, sought to give vent to his "anguish". The Congress's Punjab in-charge, Harish Rawat, however, struck a conciliatory note. "Those who have been left out of cabinet will be suitably accommodated in the government," he told ANI.

Chief Minister Channi and party leader Rahul Gandhi met via a video call on Saturday, party insiders said, to finalise the new list. The two have met thrice in New Delhi since Mr Channi took oath last week, becoming Punjab's first-ever Dalit Sikh Chief Minister.