Three Badal government ministers resign in six months
Its second consecutive innings in power was a politically historic event. But just six months later, the Parkash Singh Badal-led Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance government in the state is facing politically trying times with three ministers having been forced to quit their jobs following controversies.
The latest is Gulzar Singh Ranike, who Sunday quit as animal husbandry, fisheries and dairy development minister following serious allegations of embezzlement of discretionary funds by his close aide.
In the 18-member ministry, including the chief minister, three ministerial slots are now lying vacant.
Badal, 84, who is chief minister of Punjab for a record fifth term, has kept vacant two of the ministerial slots, which fell vacant five months and three months ago. The third one fell vacant Monday. The vacancies are being questioned within the ruling Akali Dal itself.
In the present 15-member cabinet, five slots are occupied by Badal and his close relatives, including son Sukhbir Badal, who is deputy chief minister, son-in-law Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon, Sukhbir's brother-in-law Bikram Majithia and another relative, Janmeja Singh Sekhon. Alliance partner BJP has four ministerial berths. This leaves the rest of the Akali leaders with just six cabinet berths.
Before Ranike, agriculture minister Tota Singh had to quit in May after a vigilance court in Mohali town convicted him of misusing official machinery, sentenced him to one year's rigorous imprisonment and fined him Rs.30,000. Tota Singh is at present out on bail.
In March, Jagir Kaur was forced to resign after a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) special court in Patiala town convicted her. Jagir Kaur, who was rural water supply and sanitation and defence services minister, was sentenced to five years' rigorous imprisonment for forcible abortion, wrongful confinement, abduction and criminal conspiracy in the mysterious death of her daughter, Harpreet Kaur, in April 2000. She is now in Kapurthala jail.
For the record though, while all three cabinet ministers had to quit in the midst of controversies, their resignations were submitted to Badal on the "high moral ground".
"Ranike urged the chief minister to accept his resignation immediately to uphold the highest moral ethics in politics as well to maintain the dignity of the office held by him," a spokesman of the chief minister's office said.
"The chief minister highly appreciated the moral courage shown by Mr. Ranike in submitting his resignation on his own. Making a firm resolve, Mr. Badal said that the law of the land will takes its own course and made it crystal clear that the vigilance enquiry ordered by him in the case was in line with the SAD-BJP's government policy to ensure clean, transparent and corruption free governance," the spokesman said.
The "high moral ground" of the ministers who quit and the Akali Dal government's "zero tolerance to corruption" is now being questioned by the opposition Congress.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)