CHANDIGARH: As expected, Capt. Amarinder Singh was sworn in as the 26th chief minister of Punjab on Thursday in the august but rather subdued presence of former PM Manmohan Singh and Congress veep Rahul Gandhi at an undramatic ceremony at Raj Bhavan in Chandigarh. But the man who followed him to the lectern to take his own oath of office and secrecy was not Navjot Singh Sidhu. He was in fact third, beaten to second by senior Punjab Congress leader Brahm Mohindra.
Sidhu, the former cricketer and part-time comedian-politician, was widely tipped to be Amarinder’s deputy, but his third spot in the pecking order suggests a deal has not yet been struck within the Congress. The Captain may not be too keen on the effervescent Sidhu breathing down his neck in the government, and then the jest-loving Sidhu is only weeks old in the party, having traipsed over from the BJP and a halfway house just six weeks ago.
This sets up an intrigue familiar to the Congress: Sidhu was brought into the party by Priyanka Gandhi, whose support therefore he must enjoy; but Amarinder Singh is his own man right now, having just piloted the Congress to victory in the elections.
So the Captain’s second stint as chief minister – he served a full term 2002-2007 -- has started off interestingly.
While there was no official word on the pecking order, the second minister to take the oath on Thursday, Brahm Mohindra, has his own claim to being second among equals. Next to Amarinder, he has the most experience in government, and he was the only Hindu among the eight cabinet ministers sworn in.
The others are all Sikh: Navjot Sidhu, Manpreet Badal, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, Tript Rajinder Bajwa, Rana Gurjeet Singh, Charanjit Singh Channi (cabinet ministers). Two women, Aruna Chaudhary and Razia Sultana, took oath as ministers of state.
While there is room for expansion of the ministry to 18, Amarinder Singh balanced caste and faith factors in compiling his first list of ministers. Apart from Sindhu, the other big-ticket defector from the rival ranks, Manpreet Singh Badal, estranged nephew of Parkash Singh Badal, has been accommodated. And there is one regulation Muslim, Razia Sultan, and two Dalits, Charanjit Singh Channi and Sadhu Singh.
A galaxy of Congress VIPs turned up to witness the ceremony, the only silver lining for the party from the recent elections. They included Virbhadra Singh, Kapil Sibal, Ashok Gehlot, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Ajay Maken, Raj Babbar, Ambika Soni, Pawan Kumar Bansal, Anand Sharma, Natwar Singh, Sachin Pilot, Asha Kumari, Pratap Singh Bajwa.
The Captain’s wife, former Union minister Preneet Kaur and his family members were also present. Also present on the occasion was a Pakistani journalist Aroosa Alam.