Hindustan Times (Jalandhar)

Mr Money­bags’ time is up: A bit­ter pill for the sugar baron­cum­min­is­ter

- Gur­preet Singh Nib­ber gur­preet.nib­ber@hin­dus­tan­times.com Politics · Elections · Indian National Congress · Amarinder Singh · New Zealand · Lok Sabha · Sukhpal Singh Khaira · Nawanshahr · Beant Singh · Kapurthala · Dera Sacha Sauda · Sauda · Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh · Jalandhar

CHANDI­GARH: Money power, not po­lit­i­cal savvy or grass­roots strength, has been min­is­ter Rana Gur­jit Singh’s call­ing card in power pol­i­tics in the Doaba re­gion. As prime fi­nancer of Congress poll cam­paigns, the sweet-talk­ing and Scotch-swill­ing sugar baron smoothly worked his way into Cap­tain Amarinder Singh’s charmed cir­cle be­fore his fall from grace in the first ma­jor scan­dal to hit the Congress gov­ern­ment in its less than a year in of­fice.

His exit, which seems a cer­tainty with pres­sure mount­ing on chief min­is­ter Amarinder from within the Congress to ac­cept his res­ig­na­tion, has left the party red-faced.

An em­bold­ened op­po­si­tion, par­tic­u­larly Rana’s bel­liger­ent bete noire and for­mer Con­gress­man Sukh­pal Singh Khaira of the AAP, is go­ing to go af­ter the blun­der­ing state gov­ern­ment with re­newed en­ergy.

A busi­ness­man-turned­politi­cian, Rana, the rich­est can­di­date in the state as­sem­bly polls last year with as­sets worth Rs 170 crore, had landed the gov­ern­ment in the sand­pit just days af­ter it came to power with his al­leged use of for­mer em­ploy­ees — one of whom was his “cook” — as front­men to bid for sand mines worth tens of crores.

As more and more de­tails came out, dent­ing the new im­age of a gov­ern­ment that has nearly two-thirds ma­jor­ity, the cho­rus for ac­tion against Rana grew louder. Amarinder was forced to set up a one-mem­ber in­quiry com­mis­sion which gave a clean chit to the min­is­ter. But it did not help.

There was no end to his trou­bles, as more charges and con­tro­ver­sies, in­clud­ing his fam­ily’s in­ter­ests in the power sec­tor, land pur­chases and the En­force­ment Direc­torate’s probe in fundrais­ing abroad, kept the pot boil­ing. The diehard Cap­tain loy­al­ist’s riches also could not save him, turn­ing him lit­er­ally from an as­set to a li­a­bil­ity within the first few months.

While Rana has sur­vived and thrived in pol­i­tics not as much by his po­lit­i­cal skills as by his deep pock­ets, his wasn’t a fam­ily with an­ces­tral riches.

His grand­fa­ther, who be­longed to vil­lage Bar­rma-jara in Nawan­shahr (SBS Na­gar) dis­trict, was an or­di­nary farmer. He was among the first set­tlers in New Zealand in early the 1900s, though.

In the 1950s, Rana’s fa­ther came back to set­tle in Vikram­pur vil­lage near Bazpur in what is now Ut­tarak­hand, and started out as a wood con­trac­tor for clear­ing jun­gles to pre­pare land for agri­cul­ture.

When the fam­ily re­turned to Punjab in the 1980s, it had enough money to set up new busi­nesses — a pa­per mill and a sugar mill — and dab­ble in pol­i­tics with enough cash re­serves to fund the party and its lead­ers. By the early 1990s, Rana got close to the then chief min­is­ter Beant Singh and could be seen rub­bing shoul­ders with other po­lit­i­cal big­wigs.

In 2002, the Congress fielded him from Ka­purthala as­sem­bly con­stituency, thanks to Amarinder who was then the party’s state unit chief.

Rana had come in con­tact with Amarinder through party leader Har­min­der Singh Jassi, a rel­a­tive of the now-jailed head of Dera Sacha Sauda Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.

Two years later, Rana con­tested the Ja­land­har Lok Sabha seat and won, but lost from Khadoor Sahib in 2009 be­fore win­ning two suc­ces­sive as­sem­bly elec­tions from Ka­purthala. His sis­ter-in-law and wife have also rep­re­sented the seat in the past.

Though many see the sand mine and other con­tro­ver­sies as the end of the po­lit­i­cal road for Rana, he says he will bounce back.


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