Modi inducts two turbaned Sikhs in cabinet, Akalis in dock

September 03, 2017 10:19 PM
fFrmer diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri Made minister of state with independent charge of Urban Development

New Delhi, September 3: In a cabinet reshuffle on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inducted two turbaned Sikhs in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre. But they are not from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), an ally of the saffron party.

The SAD has only one representative in the Union council of ministers, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who too holds the not-so-important portfolio of food processing.

Dashing the hopes of SAD MPs that one of them could get a berth in the Union cabinet in the reshuffle, the BJP preferred to choose its own leaders, SS Ahluwalia and former diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri.

The SAD has only one representative in the Union council of ministers, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who too holds the not-so-important portfolio of food processing.

However, sources said the Akali Dal itself is responsible for its failure to get one more of its MPs included in the Union cabinet.

They said the BJP had initially shown the inclination to induct one more SAD MP in the cabinet and feelers were sent to the Akali Dal leadership in this regard, but the latter did not follow up the matter effectively.

Meanwhile, Puri has bagged a key portfolio of housing and urban development whereas Ahluwalia has been given drinking water and sanitation. Both have been made ministers of state.

 “(Prem Singh) Chandumajra could have been the choice, but I don’t know what happened. No idea what transpired between SAD and BJP leaders,” Rajya Sabha MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, who is recuperating after heart bypass surgery, said.

 “My party could have taken it up with the BJP. I don’t think there’s a ratio formula. Though we are a minor ally as far as our strength in the Parliament is concerned, our ties with the BJP are the oldest and strong,” he said.

Chandumajra, who is MP from Anandpur Sahib, was in the race for the ministerial berth and sources in the BJP revealed that the saffron party was keen to take him in. There are a total of seven MPs of SAD in the two houses of Parliament, out of which five are turbaned Sikhs (see box).

Barring Dhindsa and Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, both of whom are 79-year-old, all other party MPs fit into the under-75 criterion of Modi to become a minister in the Union cabinet, source said.

Meanwhile, Rajya Sabha MP Balwinder Singh Bhunder said his party had not made any attempts to seek a second ministerial berth in the NDA government.

With age on his side, Chandumajra, 67, could have been the possible choice as turbaned Sikh leader from SAD, because Ferozepur MP Sher Singh Ghubaya, 55, had fallen from the favour of the party high command, including SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal and former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, after he secured the Congress ticket for his son Davinder Singh Ghubaya from Fazilka constituency in the assembly polls in February this year.

 “What can I say now. If they had called me I could have taken oath,” said Chandumajra.

 “We can’t ask for a berth in the Union cabinet on our own. Had they felt appropriate they would have asked us to send a name,” said Bhunder, 72, who does not have big political aspirations.

 “We want the country to grow and harmony to prevail. It doesn’t matter how many ministers we have from our party,” he added, while trying to wriggle out of the issue with a philosophical note.

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