For a decade during the previous Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) rule in Punjab, Congress leader Amarinder Singh accused the ruling Badal family of letting the “mining mafia” have a free run, draining the state’s resources and leading to graft of hundreds of crores of rupees.
Now, within three months of having become Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh is himself facing his first major test — the corruption taint on his confidant and ministerial colleague Rana Gurjit Singh. Rana, who is the Minister for Irrigation and Power, is in the midst of a major controversy related to the recent mining auctions in the state.
The minister, who is a billionaire businessman with industrial and business interests in sugar, liquor, energy, trade and other sectors, has been cornered by an expose which revealed that three employees of his family companies had bagged mining contracts worth crores of rupees.
One of the employees, Amit Bahadur, a cook who hails from Nepal, and has an annual income tax return of less than Rs one lakh, bagged a sand mining contract of nearly Rs 26 crore. The employee even deposited Rs 13 crore as first instalment of the contract.
Amarinder led the Congress from the front in the assembly polls in Punjab earlier this year — taking on the might of the 10-year-old SAD-BJP government and the emergence of an upbeat Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). He and the Congress were even able to beat the anti-Congress sentiment among voters in other parts of the country to secure a decisive victory — winning 77 out of 117 assembly seats.
Having promised to provide a corruption-free and transparent government, Amarinder could find himself on a sticky wicket in dealing with the Rana mining scam.
Corruption, money-laundering, favouritism, “benami” transactions, conflict of interest and misuse of office — all these have been highlighted after the mining scam was exposed. With Rana not submitting his resignation, nor Amarinder seeking it, the opposition SAD, BJP and AAP are gunning for the minister and the Amarinder government.
To show that he was seized of the matter, Amarinder, on Monday, ordered a “judicial probe” into the mining scam, especially Rana Gurjit Singh’s alleged involvement in it. The opposition immediately dismissed it as a “farce” and even questioned the appointment of retired high court judge, Justice J.S. Narang, to head the one-man commission.
“If Captain (Amarinder Singh) knows the formula of making crores of rupees in the job of a cook then he must tell it to the youth of Punjab so that the unemployed youth can earn their livelihood by learning the trick,” AAP Punjab President and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann said.
Senior Akali Dal leader and former Union minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa questioned Amarinder’s intentions in not sacking the controversial minister “despite the wealth of evidence available against him”.
“Amarinder is answerable to the people and should not let his personal ties with Rana, including his dependence of him when in the opposition, to come in the way of ensuring justice in the case,” Dhindsa said.
For someone who came to power highlighting corruption, how Amrinder handles the current scam will be crucial to perceptions about his government among the people of the state.