In full form after the party’s comparatively fine innings in the recently-concluded parliamentary polls, Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh has succeeded in projecting himself as a captain in complete control of the field placements by stripping no less than 14 ministers of their ministries in a major reallocation of portfolios.
Propelled to a more powerful position within the Congress after winning the party’s Punjab match against the combined team of the Akalis and the BJP, Capt Amarinder ensured that cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was divested of the Local Bodies Department – a charge he had held ever since the Congress party came to power in the State more than two years back.
Capt Amarinder, in fact, showed that he was all-in-all as far as the Team Congress was concerned by leaving the portfolios of just four ministers untouched in the 18-member Cabinet.
The Chief Minister has his own reasons to act against Sidhu and much has already been talked about his role as the local bodies’ minister and its effects on the polls.
Sidhu, too, has countered the claims by asserting that the party had done better in the cities than in the rural areas.
After skipping the crucial Cabinet meeting--first after the 2019 general elections, on Thursday following which the decision on reshuffle was taken, Sidhu had addressed a simultaneous press conference claiming that the Congress has fared well in the urban areas winning 63 percent of the total urban and semi-urban areas, winning 34 out of 54 seats.
"While in the purely urban assembly segments, we have won 64 percent by winning 16 out of 25 seats. In the rural areas, Congress party bagged 35 out of 63 seats, making it 55 percent,” said Sidhu on Thursday.
Claims and counter-claims notwithstanding, his decisions have made one thing clear – Capt Amarinder is more powerful than ever before within the party – Delhi circles included.
Amidst talks of giving him a greater role to play in the party’s national politics, Capt Amarinder Singh has indicated that Sidhu’s closeness to party chief Rahul Gandhi was not a deterring factor in his decision making process.
Sidhu at one point of time had asserted that Rahul Gandhi was his captain. In fact, he has always been boasting of his proximity with Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. Capt Amarinder Singh, on the other hand, had openly criticized Sidhu on several occasions.
On the day of election results, Capt Amarinder had minced no words to blame Sidhu for the party’s defeat in Bathinda and other urban pockets, for more than one reason. Dubbing Sidhu as the “non-performing” Minister, Capt Amarinder had pointed that the former cricketer’s “friendly match” remarks in Bathinda had cost the party dear, besides his “yaari and jhappi” (friendship and hugs) with the Pakistani Army Chief did not go down well with the people of the border state.
In fact, Capt Amarinder had maintained that he would take up the issue of Sidhu’s “damaging remarks” on the last day of campaigning in Bathinda that had an adverse impact on the party’s performance in the Badals’ bastion, with the Rahul Gandhi.
The developments are also being seen as an indicator of the fact that Rahul is not in a position to play the role of Sidhu’s protector after the party’s dismal nation-wide performance in the parliamentary polls. Rahul Gandhi, adamant on quitting the post of party president, has requested for a presidium to look after the party affairs.
It is also being seen as an indicative of the fact that Capt Amarinder, by helping the party somewhat saved its face in the elections, has catapulted himself in a position where he can act more independently without really bothering about Delhi’s watchful eyes.
Capt Amarinder Singh has kept the administrative reins in his hands by keeping 20 major portfolios with him after Thursday's Cabinet rejig.
In the Cabinet reshuffle, Capt Amarinder had included in his share the departments of Wildlife, Science and Technology, Information Technology, and the Governance Reforms.
Besides these, Capt Amarinder now has administrative reforms, agriculture and farmers’ welfare, horticulture, conservation of land and water, civil aviation, defence services welfare, excise and taxation, general administration, home affairs and justice, hospitality, investment promotion, information and public relations, legal and legislative affairs, personnel, environment, and vigilance.
ODD MEN OUT
Capt Amarinder Singh before the parliamentary polls had made it clear to his fellow Congressmen that the party’s show in the elections would be seen as report card of their performance and would determine their future role as well.
But the party’s decision to view with utmost seriousness the performance of the ministers in Assembly segments where the party did not perform well did not translate into reality as the portfolios of Manpreet Badal, Rana Gurmit Sodhi and Vijay Inder Singla by and large remained intact.
On the other hand, it was the ministers who proved themselves performers with the party doing well in their assembly segments, found themselves with more power in the process of reshuffle.
Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, while retaining Rural Development and Panchayats Department, got Animal Husbandry, Fisheries and Dairy under the new scheme of things, along with the Higher Education.
However, Bajwa was divested of Housing and Urban Development, which the Chief Minister had handed over to Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, in place of Revenue, which went to Gurpreet Singh Kangar, who is also handling Rehabilitation and Disaster Management.
Capt Amarinder Singh, in the process, made attempts to project the fairness of his decisions with his supporters claiming that the Chief Minister had reshuffled the portfolios of his confidants as well.
The four ministers in, whose portfolios no changes were made included Sadhu Singh Dharamsot (Forests, Printing and Stationery, SC/BC Welfare), Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa (Cooperation, Jails), Sunder Sham Arora (Industries and Commerce), and Bharat Bhushan Ashu (Food and Civil Supplies, Consumer Affairs).