DW Bureau / Chandigarh
The Congress party on Sunday put on hold the expansion of the Capt Amarinder Singh’s Cabinet primarily because the high command failed to arrive at a consensus on the appointment of the Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab, owing to regional imbalance and cast equations, it is learnt.
Top sources told Daily World on Monday that both Manpreet Singh Badal who had merged his party – PPP — into the Congress and Navjot Singh Sidhu who decided against joining AAP and finally came to the Congress fold before the Assembly polls are the top contenders for the post. The high command is also under pressure from the Hindu and Schedule Caste (SC) lobby.
The SC leaders, sources said, have been demanding fair representation in the State Cabinet even as the party MLAs from the Doaba region are pressing the Congress topbrass for allocating them more berths as there is no minister from the Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar and Nawanshehr belts. The leaders from the Malwa region also want a place in the Capt Amarinder’s Cabinet, contending that there is no minister in the State Cabinet from Ferozepur, Muktsar, Faridkot, Mansa and Ludhiana belts.
As no consensus could emerge on the final list of probable ministers during the meeting of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh on Sunday, the high command decided to defer the expansion for now.
Sources said that Hindus who are considered to have voted en-block in favour of the Congress are also staking their claim for a fair representation in the State Cabinet. As of now, there is only one Hindu minister in the Amarinder’s Cabinet as compared to three from the SC community and five from the Jat Sikhs category.
It may be mentioned that the party had earlier planned to carry out the expansion in June and induct eight new faces in the Punjab Council of Ministers, but the decision was finally deferred. While seniority of the MLAs was the criteria for the induction of the nine ministers in the Capt Amarinder’s Cabinet in March this year, the party has now been working on a formula to strike a fine balance between caste, community and region during the next expansion. The high command has also been considering the seniority of the MLAs as well as the youth factor in finalising the list of new ministers. The State Council of Ministers presently has 10 ministers, including Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh.
Among the MLAs who have been strong contenders for the ministers’ posts include: Rakesh Pandey (Ludhiana North); Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi (Guru Harsahai) and a confidant of Capt Amarinder; Raj Kumar Verka (Amritsar West) and Ajaib Singh Bhatti (Malout). Senior Congress leader and an MLA from Amritsar Central, O P Soni is also in the race but his chances of becoming a minister have been marred as there are three criminal cases pending against him.
According to sources, the party is considering three MLAs belonging to the Hindu community — Sunder Sham Arora (Hoshiapur), Bharat Bhushan Ashu (Ludhiana West) and Vijay Inder Singla (Sangrur) for the appointment as a minister in the State Cabinet. Of the four berths for the ministers from the non-Jat Sikh (Hindu Community) in the State Cabinet, only one has been filled so far.
Some other hopefuls lobbying hard for a berth in the Capt Amarinder’s government are: two-time MLA Amarinder Singh Raja Warring (Gidderbaha), Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria (Raja Sansi), Pargat Singh (Jalandhar Cant), Balbir Singh Sidhu (Mohali) and Sangat Singh Gilzian (Urmar). Sources said the party will also have to induct a minister from the Majhabi Sikh community and one minister from the OBC community since the State Cabinet.