The Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has appointed six party legislators as political advisers to the Chief Minister. This has been done apparently to quell dissent in the party over the failure of the Amarinder Government to take action against the Badals in the Bargari sacrilege cases and to check the expansion of transport business of the Badals.
This step of the Chief Minister may silence some of the legislators but the overall dissent would continue. Moreover, the state exchequer has been put under huge financial burden as the newly appointed advisers have been given the rank of cabinet minister and one of them the rank of a state minister. They will enjoy all the perks and other benefits like the official staff and official residence which will be quite burdensome.
The Punjab state is already reeling under the financial crisis and the needy are not getting the required financial assistance for sustenance.
Those who have been appointed as political advisers are Kuljeet Nagra (Fatehgarh Sahib), Kushaldeep Singh Dhillon (Faridkot), Amarinder Singh Raja Warring (Gidderbaha), Inderbir Singh Bolaria (Amritsar), Sangat Singh Gilzian (Urmar Tanda) and Tarsem Singh DC (Attari). Five of them are in the rank of cabinet minister and one in the rank of minister of state.
According to the rules 15 percent of the total strength of the house of the assembly can be inducted in the cabinet and their number should not increase 18. The state cabinet has a strength of 17 while one MLA Raj Kumar Verka who has been appointed Chairman of the State Warehousing Corporation has already been given the rank of cabinet minister.
With the appointment of six more MLAs as advisers to the Chief Minister, the number of cabinet rank has risen to 24. Resentment is prevailing among those MLAs of the party who have been ignored by the Chief Minister.
The Chief Minister was under attack for not taking action against the Badals over the issue of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib and police firing at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan in 2015. The state government is already engaged in a controversy with the CBI on the issue of the investigation of the sacrilege and police firing cases. The SAD-BJP government had entrusted the investigation to the CBI before the 2017 vidhan sabha polls.
After the defeat of the SAD-BJP government in the vidhan sabha elections, the Amarinder Singh government had withdrawn the consent from the CBI under pressure from the party legislators and a unanimous resolution was passed in this regard by the Punjab vidhan sabha.
Despite the withdrawal of the consent, the CBI presented a closure report in the court acquitting all the ten persons arrested in the sacrilege cases including one Mohinder Paul Bittu who was killed in the jail. Mohinder Paul Bittu was alleged to be the brain behind the sacrilege cases and was Executive member of the Dera Sacha Sauda.
As the Punjab Vidhan Sabha passed a resolution withdrawing the consent from the CBI, a special investigation team (SIT) was formed under the chairmanship of Prabodh Kumar IPS officer who was ADGP and now heading the investigation bureau as DGP. After the submission of closure report by the CBI, Prabodh Kumar wrote to the CBI to continue with the investigation as certain angles remain to be investigated.
The CBI has again started the investigation. But there is strong opposition from the Congress legislators and even some of the ministers have taken exception to the letter written by Prabodh Kumar to the CBI for restarting the investigation. The Aam Aadmi Party has moved a privilege motion against Prabodh Kumar in the Vidhan Sabha for writing to the CBI. The Chief Minister is under pressure from his party to withdraw the investigation from the CBI.
The Advocate General of Punjab has already written to the Union Ministry of Personnel and Training for withdrawing the investigation from the CBI. But the controversy remains and the Congress party is critical of Prabodh Kumar and the advocate general.
The decision to appoint six political advisers by the Chief Minister has been strongly condemned by the Congress leaders as well as the opposition leaders.
Partap Singh Bajwa former President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee and Rajya Sabha member has stated that placating the MLAs showed panic reaction by the Chief Minister. They have been given the cabinet rank but no work.
Seeking action against the Badals, Bajwa said that more than two years had passed since the MLAs had been demanding action against the Badals in the sacrilege cases. The Chief Minister should give an explanation on the letter written by the SIT Chief to the CBI. The Chief Minister should clear his position whether the letter was written by the Prabodh Kumar with his instructions or at his own level.
Three legislators who have been appointed as advisers namely Kuljeet Nagra, Amarinder Raja Warring and Kushaldeep Dhillon have stated that they will not accept additional salary, perks or allowances enjoyed by cabinet minister and they would draw the salary of MLA only.
The appointment of six advisers has been challenged in the Punjab and Haryana High Court by a lawyer Jagmohan Singh Bhatti who has maintained that the impugned orders have been issued illegally, arbitrarily and in violation of the constitutional provisions.
The opposition parties of Shiromini Akali Dal and AAP have strongly criticized the appointment of six advisers by the Chief Minister and have maintained that the financially starved state has been put to additional burden where as the down-trodden sections are facing hardships and financial assistance is not being given to them.
Punjab’s political scene is likely to become hotter with the latest political development in the state. The Congress will face lot of opposition in the four by elections to the Punjab Vidhan Sabha in the next three months.
K S Chawla is a senior journalist based at Ludhiana.
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Published on Sept 13, 2019.