With four months left for assembly elections, Congress’ troubles in Punjab seem far from over despite a dramatic change of guard. While some heartburns were expected during ticket distribution further down the line, disgruntlement seems to already be brewing with the cabinet berth allocation.
A few hours before the new ministers were to take oath on Sunday, some MLAs wrote to Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, saying the “tainted” Rana Gurjeet Singh should not be made minister since he faced accusations of corruption in sand mining. Gurjeet Singh, in fact, was removed from the cabinet by then chief minister Amarinder Singh over the corruption allegations.
Sidhu, however, failed to stop Gurjeet Singh’s elevation as minister again. Party MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira has even commented that the party is “making a big blunder with Rana as minister”.
Sidhu is also believed to be upset with some other ministerial appointments made by new Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, like that of Aruna Chaudhary who is the CM’s relative and faces anti-incumbency in her constituency Dinanagar. Sidhu had instead been pitching for a berth to Punjab Congress Committee Scheduled Caste (SC) department head Raj Kunar Chhabewal.
The cabinet composition seems to also have upset caste dynamics, with no adequate representation given to Mazhabi Sikhs who make up 30% of SCs. The current assembly has nine MLAs from the community. Sources say Channi was not receptive to the idea of accommodating Mazhabi Sikhs as he was pitching for his own community.
Those close to the CM dismiss the speculation as unfair allegations. They say every name for ministership had the sanction of both party leader Rahul Gandhi and the Punjab Congress Committee, which Sidhu heads.
However, an element of distrust in the Congress camp is apparent. “We wanted to be different from Captain Amarinder Singh. We wanted to show that we are above corruption. And now someone who has been accused of corruption is minister. This will weaken our fight,” a leader close to Sidhu told News18 condition of anonymity.
The immediate challenge for the Congress is to maintain peace and unity between Sidhu and Channi, an ironic task given it was the former who pushed for the Dalit leader to be made CM instead of Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa.
The Sidhu versus Amarinder slugfest threatened to take away precious votes from the Congress. If allowed to fester, the friction between Channi and Sidhu could do more harm.