Why Congress had to get rid of Rana Gurjit Singh in the run-up to 2019 Lok Sabha polls
Eight months after being embroiled in a sand-mining scam and ten days after his son got entangled in an Enforcement Directorate case, Punjab's power and irrigation minister Rana Gurjit Singh has put in his papers. Congress president Rahul Gandhi is expected to convey it to the state chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh to accept the resignation soon and go in for a much awaited cabinet expansion
This is the first major setback to the Amarinder government in Punjab and also a jolt to the Congress party that is looking for a revival on the national scene in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the path to which will have to go through Punjab as it is the only state where the party won ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power at the centre under Narendra Modi.
Sources say that it was on the directions of the Congress president that Rana Gurjit put in his papers on January 4. The move is being interpreted as Rahul asserting himself in the Congress as the newly elected president of the grand old party.
“He is giving the message that he is the one in control now and others will have to fall in line. Ideally, Amarinder should have asked him to quit in May itself when the sand mining scam had come to light with allegations of him bagging mining contracts through the backdoor had been leveled. But everyone knows the close bond between the two and this was not done,” said an observer.
For Rahul it is pertinent to send out the right sort of political messages from this point of time as the Lok Sabha polls are barely a year away and the Congress is desperately seeking a revival across the country. Punjab is one state that the party can showcase as a model of good governance. But the opportunity has been squandered till now with not much being delivered on the public front.
The Amarinder government has also not been able to optimally capitalise on the farm loan waiver that it had announced in the middle of the last year. Firstly the effort was not backed with proper political planning to take the advantage on it and secondly there have been a lot of questions on the manner of its implementation. Despite being an incomplete and a partial waiver, the Congress government under Amarinder still stands on the moral high ground in terms of being the first to deliver on the promise made even if it is a partial delivery.
The governments in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra have followed with similar promises but nothing has been implemented on the ground. These are states where the BJP is in power.
The opportunity to market the waiver politically still exists in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls but Amarinder needs to ensure that the government does not go on the back foot on other issues. After all he was the one who had been promising that the sand mafia would be abolished in the state once the Congress came to power. But what has happened is that only the mafia dons have changed with the change in government. There have been reports in the media almost daily pointing at the rampant illegal mining that has continued in the state across the state. This is something that the Congress as well as Amarinder cannot afford at this point of time.
Another thing that is being pointed out is the non co-operation by the Punjab Congress leaders when it comes to helping the Congress units in the other poll bound states. The most recent examples have that been of Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. In case of Himachal there were around 10 Congress leaders from the state who were listed as star campaigners but only Amarinder and the Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar went and campaigned there.
Similarly there was hardly any presence from Punjab in the all important Gujarat election campaign except from former Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa and Amrinder Singh Raja Warring. Observers feel that the party should have ensured the presence of Punjab's urban development minister Navjot Singh Sidhu in both these states given his capacity to pull crowds.
There is a point of view that accepting Rana Gurjit's resignation at this point of time would vindicate the allegations of the opposition parties Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) against the Amarinder regime. But it is better to bite the bullet for long term gains.
AAP leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira who is a known Amarinder and Rana baiter had been gunning persistently for the latter's ouster over the last several months. Rana’s resignation comes as a shot in the arm for Khaira and AAP whose consistent campaign on the issue put Amarinder on the backfoot.
The SAD in its statement has said now that Rana Gurjit Singh’s complicity in the sand mining scam in which sand mines were allotted to his minions, has been proven beyond doubt by his resignation, a criminal case should be registered against him for causing loss to the state exchequer.
Party leader and Rajya Sabha member Balwinder Singh Bhunder said the resignation has also proved that the entire process of allocation of sand mines was flawed. "All sand mines allocated to Congress legislators should be canceled immediately. Action should also be taken against ministers who knew about this crime and kept quiet," he added.
"Rana Gurjit cannot claim he is resigning on moral grounds. If that was so he should have resigned when his name surfaced in the sand mining scam in which his cook Amit Bahadur successfully bid for a Rs 26 crore sand mine," he added.
The Akali leader further said that it has also been established that the Justice (Retired) JS Narang commission was formed to exonerate Rana Gurjit by giving it specific terms of reference. “It is clear that the Narang Commission has abysmally failed to do its job. It is now incumbent on the government to ask Justice (Retired) Narang to refund the entire money spent from the state exchequer on the bogus inquiry done by him,” he asserted.