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December 23, 1999
Badal to expand cabinet soon
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal plans to expand his cabinet in the next couple of weeks, according to a senior Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) leader.
Badal is taking the step because he faces dissent from within the party after it virtually split earlier this year following his showdown with former Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra.
Tohra had demanded Badal's resignation after the party's dismal performance in the Adampur assembly by-election in mid-1998 where the Akali Dal nominee lost his seat to the Congress candidate by a huge margin.
Badal turned down the demand, leading to a sharp exchange between him and Tohra, ending with Tohra's expulsion from the Akali Dal.
Five Tohra supporters, including Manjit Singh Calcutta, tendered their resignations from the Badal cabinet to show their solidarity with Tohra.
Badal replaced Tohra with Bibi Jagir Kaur as SGPC president, hoping it would help him consolidate his position in the Akali Dal. Jagir Kaur resigned from the state cabinet to take up her new assignment. Another minister of Badal cabinet died recently.
There are currently seven vacancies in Badal's cabinet, but there are far more nominees than ministry berths. Badal has promised to carry out his long overdue cabinet expansion in his bid to pacify those MLAs who raised the banner of revolt along with former Punjab assembly speaker Ravi Inder Singh.
Ravi Inder Singh had demanded that Badal be replaced as chief minister after the party's debacle in the general election. In 1998, the Akali Dal and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, won 12 seats, but this time the SAD (Badal) managed just two seats on its own.
Badal has been meeting MLAs from various parts of the state on a weekly basis, promising plum posts to those who support him and help him tide over the present crisis.
But the dissidents want him to include prominent dissenters in the cabinet this time and revoke the showcause notice issued to Ravi Inder Singh.
Ravi Inder Singh belongs to the family of Sardar Badev Singh, defence minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's cabinet. Singh believes Badal is trying to make his son Sukhbir Singh Badal the state's next chief minister. Sukhbir Badal had lost his seat to Jagmeet Singh Brar in the general election.
Former Union minister Surjeet Singh Barnala, who also lost the Lok Sabha election, is believed to be lending tacit support to the dissidents. Barnala is said to be upset that Badal not only blocked his chances to be a Cabinet minister but also did not press for a governorship for the Akali veteran.
But Barnala denies this.
"When I lost so badly, how could I demand that I be included in the Union Cabinet? The Government of India did sound me about a governorship, but I declined because I am not looking for one. I have been governor of Tamil Nadu. As of today, all posts of governors have also been filled up. I see nothing wrong with others aspiring to become the chief minister of Punjab. But I would like to make one thing clear -- this government might last a full term," said Barnala.
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