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Two more Punjab Congress MLAs resign from party posts, allege party has ignored Dalit community

Chandigarh: Two more Congress legislators resigned from their posts in the party's Punjab unit on Saturday as resentment grew among MLAs for being denied a ministerial berth in an expansion of the state Cabinet.

Surjit Singh Dhiman, the MLA from Amargarh in Sangrur district, and Nathu Ram from Balluana in Fazilka, tendered their resignations from party positions to Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief Sunil Jakhar.

The resignation came just hours before the swearing in here of the nine new ministers, whose names were announced on Friday after a meeting between Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi.

 Two more Punjab Congress MLAs resign from party posts, allege party has ignored Dalit community

File image of Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh. AFP

Another party legislator, Sangat Singh Gilzian, resigned on Friday from All India Congress Committee (AICC) and as a PPCC vice-president over the issue.

Nathu Ram quit as PPCC general secretary, saying the party had ignored his Dalit community.

Surjit Singh Dhiman's resignation from the PPCC vice-president's post was announced by his son Jaswinder Dhiman. He is from the backward classes and said they were "ignored".

"Dalits are feeling humiliated by being denied a ministerial slot in the cabinet expansion," Nathu Ram said.

"Dalits account for 34 percent of Punjab population and if we are to consider this percentage, at least five ministers should be Dalits in the cabinet," he said.

Jaswinder Singh Dhiman said "not a single minister" belonged to backward classes.

"Out of the backward class population in the state, 14 percent belong to Ramgarhia community. At least one person belonging the to the backward community should have been given the post," he said.

The chief minister, however, denied any "unfairness" in the selection of the new ministers.

Amarinder Singh said adequate representation had been given to all sections and regions, with seniority being the key criteria.

"There were no swollen faces in the party, as the media chose to call them," he said while responding to questions from journalists in an informal chat after the swearing-in ceremony at the Raj Bhavan in Chandigarh.

He said the focus had been on striking a regional and caste balance to ensure the holistic development of the state. Besides the resignations, two other Congress MLAs today expressed disappointment over the Cabinet expansion.

Khanna MLA Gurkirat Singh Kotli, who is the grandson of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, said "old and traditional" families that have won elections for the party should have been considered for Cabinet berths.

"I meet all the criteria for becoming a minister but a junior person has been inducted. I fought three elections and won twice," said Navtej Singh Cheema, the MLA from Sultanpur Lodhi in Kapurthala district.

Cheema said he was disappointed that the Doaba region was "ignored."

"Only one ministerial berth has been given to Doaba (Sunder Shan Arora) and that too represents the Kandi area. The main Doaba region comprising Jalandhar and Kapurthala, which is known as the NRI belt, is completely ignored," Cheema said.

"Whenever Congress won seats from the Doaba region, it formed the government," he said.

He said the party picked three ministers from one district but had ignored Doaba.

With the induction of Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Randhawa in the Cabinet, Gurdaspur district now has three ministers.

Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa (Fatehgarh Churian) and Aruna Chaudhary (Dinanagar) already represented the district in the ministry.

Amritsar also has three ministers now with the induction of OP Soni (Amritsar Central) and Sukhbinder Sarkaria (Raja Sansi). Navjot Singh Sidhu from Amritsar East was already a minister.

Cheema said he could not understand why his name was "dropped at the last moment" and will take up the matter with the chief minister.

Meanwhile, Kotli argued in favour of Punjab's "traditional" families. "Old and traditional families that have been winning continuously and worked hard for the party should have also been considered," he said.

Kotli's grandfather Beant Singh was chief minister and his father Tej Partap Singh was a minister in previous Congress government.

Later, the chief minister told reporters that with four Dalit ministers already in the Cabinet, more members of the community could not have been accommodated. He assured that all Congress MLAs who had not found a place in the ministry will be inducted into the various boards and corporations.

The ministers' portfolios will be announced on Sunday, he said.

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Updated Date: Apr 21, 2018 22:34:32 IST

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