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Flanked By First-Timers, Bhagwant Mann May Have Full Sway Over Punjab Cabinet

Despite AAP's talks on women empowerment, only one woman leader, Baljit Kaur, has found a place in the Cabinet.

Updated
Punjab Election
3 min read
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Video Producer: Shohini Bose

Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma

Ten ministers in the newly-formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab took oath on Saturday, 19 March, in Chandigarh.

Among those who've found a place in the state Cabinet – led by Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann – are mostly first-time MLAs with only two experienced names, Harpal Singh Cheema and Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer, making it to the list.

The new Cabinet has four Dalit faces, and five and four leaders respectively coming from the Malwa and the Majha belts. The Doaba belt, which has 23 Assembly seats and the highest proportion of Dalits in the state is represented by one leader in the Cabinet. Further, despite AAP's talk around women empowerment only one woman leader has found a place in the Cabinet.

It is pertinent to note that the Punjab Cabinet has 18 berths in all, including the post of the chief minister, and representatives for only 11 have been announced so far.

MLA from Kotkapura, Kultar Singh Sandhwan, has been nominated as the next Speaker of the 117-member Assembly.

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Prominent Faces Missing

While it was expected that second time AAP MLAs will be rewarded for their loyalty, only two of them have been able to make to the list so far — Harpal Cheema and Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer. While former leader of Opposition Cheema is a prominent Dalit face of the party, Meet Hayer, MLA from Barnala is the President of AAP's youth wing in Punjab.

Prominent party leaders, Aman Arora, Jai Kishan Rori, and Principal Budh Ram did not feature in this list of ministers.

Further, only Cheema is a senior leader in terms of political experience, which means that Mann is likely to be undisputed within the Cabinet.

4 Dalits and Only 1 Woman Leader on the List

With 32 percent population of Punjab belonging to the Scheduled Castes, four Dalit leaders have found a place in Bhagwant Mann's Cabinet. These are: Harpal Cheema, Baljit Kaur, Harbhajan Singh ETO, and Lal Chand Kataruchak.

Kaur is also the only woman on the list. A first-time MLA, she defeated Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) nominee Harpreet Singh by 40,261 votes from Malout in Muktsar district.

53-year-old Harbhajan Singh is a former Excise and Taxation Officer who unsuccessfully contested the 2017 Assembly elections from Jandiala constituency. Singh, however, defeated Congress' Sukhwinder Singh Danny in 2022 with a margin of over 25,000 votes.

President of AAP's SC wing – Kataruchak – joined the party in 2017 before which he was associated with the Revolutionary Marxist Party of India. He won the election from Bhoa seat in Pathankot.

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The Controversial Induction of Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal

Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal, MLA from Ajnala, remains a controversial name in the AAP Cabinet list. He defeated Akali Dal candidate Amarpal Singh and was previously associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).

He unsuccessfully contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Amritsar on the AAP ticket.

Once on the hit-list of terrorist organisations for his anti-militancy stand, a murder case was registered against Dhaliwal in 2019. According to Dhaliwal’s affidavit, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has stayed his arrest in the case.

It must be noted that half of Punjab's newly-elected legislators have been earlier booked in various criminal cases, with every fifth MLA facing serious charges, ranging from murder and crime against women to illegal mining.

This list includes 19 out of 92 AAP MLAs.

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