CHANDIGARH: Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann on Monday expanded his cabinet, the first since he was sworn in on March 16, with the induction of five ministers and a mixed representation of old lieutenants and new warhorses including those close to him.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has included Sunam MLA Aman Arora, Amritsar South MLA Inderbir Singh Nijjar, Guru Har Sahai MLA Fauja Singh, Samana MLA Chetan Singh Joramajra and MLA Kharar MLA Anmol Gagan Mann.
The expansion comes at a time when AAP lost Sangrur by-poll to a pro-Khalistan leader and former IPS Simranjit Singh Mann which came as a rude shock for the party that only two months ago had broken a 35-year-old record in the Vidhan Sabha elections.
Of them, Arora is one of the oldest members of AAP, who had played a crucial role in consolidating the vote bank in the cotton-rich Malwa region and also spearheaded Mann’s campaign in the 2017 elections where AAP had pushed the then ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to the number third position after registering 20 seats in their debut polls.
Besides being a strong Hindu face of the party in Punjab, Arora, a two-time MLA, had won by a record highest margin in the state with over 75,000 votes and his absence in the first cabinet had shocked many analysts. The move is being seen as a strategy to dent the pro-Khalistan sentiments that have surfaced after Mann’s easy victory and the killing of singer Sidhu Moosewala.
Arora, along with Moga’s Dr Amandeep Kaur Arora, a surgeon from Ukraine, who pitchforked herself as ‘Mogey di doctor dhee’ and had defeated Malvika Sood (sister of Sonu Sood) of Congress and Neena Mittal are among other Hindu faces.
Anmol Gagan’s candidature and her induction are both seen as AAP’s commitment to handpick rural talent among artists and youth by CM Mann, AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal and party’s Punjab in-charge and MP Raghav Chadha.
The 32-year-old had defeated Akali Dal’s Ranjit Singh Gill by more than 37,000 votes from Kharar. Her campaign song Bhagat Singh, Kartar Sarabha saare hi ban challe had drawn the youth as she belted out this number at all campaigns for the star candidates during January to March. Anmol Gagan is also the second woman in the Mann-led cabinet now.
Fauja’s induction is being seen as a step to further bolster the party’s fortunes in the volatile border region of Ferozepur district where he defeated then Guru Har Sahai sitting MLA Rana Sodhi, who has since defected from the Congress to the BJP.
Dr Nijjar, president of Chief Khalsa Diwan, was initially made the Pro Tem Speaker before Kultar Singh Sandhwan is also one of the party’s strong faces in the Majha region and the second candidate from Amritsar to make the cut.
Speaker Punjab Vidhan Sabha Kultar Singh Sandhwan, Deputy Speaker Punjab Vidhan Sabha Jai Kishan Rauri, Cabinet Ministers Harpal Singh Cheema, Dr Baljit Kaur, Harbhajan Singh ETO, Lal Chand, Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer, Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal, Laljit Singh Bhullar, Bram Shanker Jimpa and Harjot Singh Bains were present at the swearing-in that took place at the Punjab Raj Bhawan.
AAP, which had stormed to power following a stunning tally of 92 out of 117 seats, has last week announced to waive off electricity bills till December 2021 while also promising free electricity up to 300 units in the state – a plank that it’s using in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat to the full.
Kejriwal was touring Gujarat on the day of the expansion of Mann where he talked extensively about the party’s electricity freebies.