Hindustan Times (Jalandhar)

Rana con­tro­versy weak­ens Capt’s po­si­tion, sand­storm brew­ing in Cong over oth­ers too

Rum­blings among Cong MLAs against other col­leagues ‘in­volved’ in sand min­ing grow louder; many say the CM waited far too long, oth­ers say he even re­mained in de­nial un­til the ED sum­mons to Rana’s son

- Sukhdeep Kaur sukhdeep.kaur@hin­dus­tan­times.com Politics · Mining · Industries · Chandigarh · Indian National Congress · Amarinder Singh · New Delhi

CHANDI­GARH: A near two-thirds ma­jor­ity of 77 MLAs. That Punjab wanted clean gov­er­nance from the Congress was writ large on the man­date.

It was also writ large on its elec­tion man­i­festo. As the party lost elec­tions in all other states that went to polls last year, Punjab was the only state it could lead by ex­am­ple.

With a “weak” high com­mand, Punjab chief min­is­ter Cap­tain Amarinder Singh’s au­thor­ity would have also gone un­chal­lenged, both in Delhi and back home. But the CM could not walk the high talk. The min­ing depart­ment is part of the in­dus­tries depart­ment, which is un­der the CM.

As in­volve­ment of aides of power min­is­ter Rana Gur­jit Singh in sand min­ing auc­tions cre­ated a furore, the min­is­ter de­cided to brazen it out.

The pro­gres­sive bid­ding process was to help the state make more money. What it did in­stead was jack up prices of mines to un­re­al­is­tic fig­ures to nudge out com­peti­tors.

The ir­ri­ga­tion depart­ment, the other port­fo­lio Rana holds, too, over­sees min­ing on riverbeds. There was di­rect con­flict of in­ter­est in Rana’s friends hav­ing min­ing stakes around these riverbeds. But the CM de­cided to over­look it. He would not let a min­is­ter, one out of nine, that too a con­fi­dant, fall to “me­dia trial”.

He formed a one-mem­ber ju­di­cial com­mis­sion and Rana got a “clean chit”. It mat­ters lit­tle what the com­mis­sion said in its re­port now as Rana Gur­jit had to fi­nally step down. What mat­ters more is it now raises ques­tions over all other such in­quiry com­mis­sions set up by the CM.

The con­tro­versy has also weak­ened his po­si­tion. He just waited far too long. Some would say he was even in de­nial. Un­til the sum­mons of the En­force­ment Direc­torate (ED) to Rana’s son made his po­si­tion awk­ward.

Fi­nally, the party high com­mand pre­vailed and Rana was told to step down. It saved both the CM and the party more blushes. But in pub­lic per­cep­tion, the dam­age has been done. It is just the first year of the Congress rule af­ter 10 years of po­lit­i­cal ex­ile.

In the meet­ing of Amarinder with Congress MLAs on Mon­day, there were rum­blings against party leg­is­la­tors in­volved in sand min­ing. They told the chief min­is­ter that the “goonda tax” con­tin­ues. A Congress MLA said the CM looked “help­less”.

One of his min­is­ters says peo­ple tell him they can’t spot the dif­fer­ence be­tween this gov­ern­ment and the pre­vi­ous one. And sand min­ing is not the only trade in which Con­gress­men have stakes. There is liquor, trans­port and ca­ble busi­ness too.

When rat­tled by young min­is­ters try­ing to steal his thun­der, Amarinder gave up the idea of groom­ing a suc­ces­sor and an­nounced to fight an­other elec­tion at the age of 80.

Hav­ing a co­terie for palace in­trigues may help out­wit de­trac­tors.

But Cap­tain would like to hang up his boots, if he fights the next elec­tion, as a win­ner. That would need both good­will and good work.


 ?? ILLUSTRATI­ON: DALJEET KAUR SANDHU/HT ?? re­sign­ing I’m on high moral grounds
ILLUSTRATI­ON: DALJEET KAUR SANDHU/HT re­sign­ing I’m on high moral grounds

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