Ahead of the Punjab Assembly elections next year, all the five BJP ministers resigned from the Parkash Singh Badal cabinet this evening in the wake of allegations of involvement of party leaders in the Rs 1.5 crore graft case. Besides the five cabinet rank ministers, two Chief Parliamentary Secretaries (CPS) of the party also resigned from their posts following directions of party high command, BJP’s Punjab in-charge Shanta Kumar told reporters here.
The seven were directed to resign at a meeting of party legislators, presided here tonight by Shanta Kumar, at the Punjab Bhawan as per the instructions of party high command. After the meeting, the BJP ministers and the two CPS left for the residence of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to hand over their resignations to him.
The five ministers who resigned are Manoranjan Kalia (Local Bodies and Industries), Tikshan Sud (Parliamentary Affairs), Laxmi Kanta Chawla (Health and Family Welfare), Mohan Lal (Transport) and Swarna Ram (Technical Education), while the two CPS are Sukhpal Singh Nannu and Arunesh Shakir.
The resignations come in the wake of alleged links of BJP leaders in the Rs 1.5 crore graft case that led to the arrest of Chief Parliamentary Secretary (Finance) Raj Khurana and a government employee last week. Khurana, the BJP legislator from Rajpura, and Devinder Singh, an official of Registrar, Firms & Societies, were arrested by the CBI for allegedly demanding a bribe of Rs 1.5 crore for closing a complaint against an association.
BJP sources said that initially the central leadership was keen to drop few ministers, but after sensing that this would send a wrong message it decided to go with all the seven resignations. The party has sought the resignation of its ministers in a bid to clean up its image following the CBI action, they said. The BJP (19) and the SAD (50) had formed the Punjab government in 2007 wresting power from the Congress in the state.
Shanta Kumar and another state party in-charge Captain Abhimanyu went to the chief minister’s official residence and handed the resignations to Badal. Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal was also present at that time along with the chief minister. The chief minister and his deputy did not talk to the media present outside their residence. Official sources told PTI that the chief minister has forwarded the resignations to Governor Shivaraj Patil. BJP sources said that the vacancies caused due to the resignation of the five ministers are expected to be filled up soon after the party high command clears the names for the replacements. They said that alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) was not consulted by the BJP whose high command took the decision at a meeting in the national capital yesterday.
One of the ministers present at the meeting told PTI later that they were not given any option and were asked to submit their resignations as per the party decision. “We fail to understand what the party is going to achieve,” he said. Besides Raj Khurana, Kalia and Ram were quizzed by the CBI in connection with the case. CBI arrested Swarna Ram’s private secretary Bhag Singh on Tuesday in connection with a note written on behalf of the minister, which was addressed to Local Bodies and Industries Minister Manoranjan Kalia. The note was found in the Technical Education Minister’s office. Earlier, the probe agency had arrested Khurana and Devinder Singh after registering a case on the basis of a complaint received from Punjab Automobile Mechanics Association (PAMA) secretary Manpreet Singh alleging demand of bribe of Rs 1.5 crore. Khurana and Devinder Singh were arrested after a raid was conducted at the former’s residence, which resulted in recovery of Rs 15 lakh in cash and Rs 1.35 crore worth cheques from a car belonging to Devinder Singh. The agency had booked Khurana alleging that the bribe money was to be handed over through him to Kalia for closing the complaint against Manpreet Singh and other office bearers of the Association.
Meanwhile, an official spokesperson said here that the swearing-in ceremony of the new ministers and chief parliamentary secretaries would be held on Sunday. The number of new ministers to be sworn-in is not yet known.
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