In a matter of just 24 hours, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh suffered a double blow as two of his close aides in the government lost their jobs — one bowing to the law of the land and the second one being forcibly sacrificed at the political altar.
The exit of senior bureaucrat Suresh Kumar, a close aide and confidant of Amarinder Singh in the 10-month-old Congress government in the state, as the Chief Principal Secretary after the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Wednesday held his appointment to a cadre post as void, being in violation of the Constitution, has definitely affected the Chief Minister and his high profile office.
Kumar, a 1983-batch IAS officer who retired as Additional Chief Secretary in Punjab in April 2016, was hand-picked by Amarinder when he became the Chief Minister in March last year.
The officer, known for his impeccable, honest and upright approach, was often referred to as the “Super CM” in Punjab’s power circles in the past 10 months. Such was the power of this soft-spoken, outspoken officer that he was reputed to be taking critical government decisions even if the Chief Minister was unavailable at times.
Kumar took no time in stepping down after the high court nullified his appointment even though Amarinder put up a bold face to ask state Advocate General Atul Nanda to examine the Court order and initiate legal recourse.
There have been murmurs in government circles that a powerful lobby of people in the government and the Congress could be secretly behind the petition filed in the high court against Kumar’s appointment. Perhaps, they could not see the upright officer virtually call all shots in the functioning of the state government.
Kumar had earlier served as the Principal Secretary to Amarinder Singh for three years during the latter’s earlier tenure as Chief Minister (2002-2007).
The second blow to Amarinder came on Thursday after the Congress High Command, meaning Congress president Rahul Gandhi, forced Amarinder to accept the resignation of Punjab’s powerful cabinet minister Rana Gurjit Singh.
Rana, who was embroiled in controversies in the past few months related to the multi-crore rupee benami sand mining auctions in the state and conflicts of interest in his role as a minister and his family’s business interests, was forced to put in his papers earlier this month but Amarinder kept delaying its acceptance.
The nudge for the forced resignation, Congress insiders told IANS, came from Rahul Gandhi’s office itself after Punjab Congress leaders briefed briefed the party president on the alleged activities of the minister and his family members and associates.
Summons issued by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) earlier this month to Rana’s son, Inder Pratap Singh, for raising the equivalent of over Rs 100 crore (over $15 million) abroad without taking permission from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) precipitated matters.
Rana, a billionaire industrialist with interests in the sugar, liquor and power sectors, was a close confidant of Amarinder Singh.
The Chief Minister, in March last year, not only inducted him into the cabinet but assigned him the important portfolios of power and irrigation.
Rana was on the political hit-list of the opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal. Despite his name figuring in controversies, Amarinder continued to defend him till the party high command intervened.
Amarinder, who led the party to a massive victory in assembly polls in March last year — winning 77 out of 117 assembly seats — will now have to run the show minus two of his closest aides being officially around him. With several Congress leaders greedily vying for ministerial and official positions, which are yet to be filled, Amarinder has his hands full.