New Delhi: Harjot Singh Bains, 31, was an active participant in the India Against Corruption movement led by social activist Anna Hazare in Delhi in 2011 and this, he said, was his introduction to the “politics of change”.
The idea for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) grew out of this movement and the party was founded in 2012. Speaking to ThePrint last week, Bains recalled meeting party leader Arvind Kejriwal at the former office of AAP in Kaushambi, Delhi-NCR next year. , to seek his blessing as one of the founders of party unity in Punjab. Bains was then 23 years old.
Less than a decade later, the AAP won a landslide victory in the just-held Punjab assembly elections, the results of which were announced on March 10 – the party won 92 of 117 seats – and Bains became the youngest minister in Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s cabinet. Bains had won the elections in the Anandpur Sahib constituency of the state to become an MP for the first time. He was sworn in as cabinet minister on Saturday, although the portfolios have yet to be assigned.
“It’s a big responsibility,” Bains, a lawyer by profession, told the media after taking the oath. “Arvind Kejriwal has brought back young people’s confidence in politics. Now we must rebuild Punjab, adhering to the ideas and policies of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (first ruler of the Sikh Empire). We started working on a Punjab development model.
Another cabinet minister, Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer – Mann’s second youngest cabinet member at 32 – was also Bains’ comrade during the Anna Hazare movement. Hayer is a second AAP Punjab lawmaker, having won the 2017 and 2022 assembly elections in Barnala constituency.
“I thank Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann for trusting me. I assure the people of Punjab that I will put all my efforts to ensure good governance,” Hayer, a mechanical engineer by profession, told the media on Saturday.
The two are part of a 10-member cabinet that was sworn in on Saturday. But with a total authorized strength of 17 ministers, seven more are yet to be inducted into Punjab’s new cabinet.
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Know your ministers
Besides Bains and Hayer, the new cabinet also includes two doctors (an ophthalmologist and a dentist), another lawyer, a former halka (constituency) party official, a former city councillor, a former civil servant, a farmer and industrialist.
According to information available in party archives seen by ThePrint, the new ministers also reflect an interesting social mix – four of the ministers are Jat Sikhs, three Dalit Sikhs and three Hindus (including one Dalit Hindu).
Five of the ministers come from the Malwa region, four from Majha and one from Doaba. Two of the cabinet ministers – Harpal Singh Cheema, MLA Dirba, and Hayer, MLA Barnala – are second-time lawmakers.
“I thank the senior leaders for having confidence in me as a leader who they believe can bring positive change in the governance of Punjab as a minister,” Cheema, a lawyer by profession, told ThePrint.
The oldest cabinet member is a 59-year-old farmer and MP Ajnala Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal. Among the others is Pandit Brahm Shankar, 56, an industrialist and four-time Congress adviser from Hoshiarpur, who joined the AAP in March 2021, according to party records.
Meanwhile, 46-year-old Baljit Kaur – an eye surgeon and daughter of former Faridkot AAP MP Sadhu Singh – is still the only female member.
Others include Lal Chand Kataruchak, 47, AAP halka leader for Bhoa, from where he won recent assembly elections; Harbhajan Singh, former Excise and Tax Officer and MP for Jandiala, Harbhajan Singh, 48, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2017 Assembly elections; and Lalit Bhullar, 41, who is a former Shiromani Akali Dal and congressman, who has never won an election before.
The tenth cabinet minister is dentist and Mansa MP, Vijay Singla, who beat popular Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala. A Congress candidate, Moosewala, was defeated by Singla by a margin of over 63,000 votes.
Seven positions still to be filled
The Punjab cabinet can accommodate 17 ministers, in addition to the CM, 10 of whom have been inducted, while the names of the remaining seven names are expected to be announced later.
The absence of some important names from the first list – such as Aman Arora, Kultar Singh Sandhwan, Baljinder Kaur and Budh Ram – surprised several senior party officials.
Arora, Sandhwan, Kaur and Ram were all elected for the second time on March 10. While Sandhwan was elected Speaker of the Assembly on March 17, the other two have yet to secure a post.
“The missing names of Aman Arora and Budh Ram came as a shock. They were not only seen as candidates with a high chance of being in the cabinet, but also as favorites for the main portfolios,” said a senior party official in Punjab who did not wish to be identified.
(Editing by Poulomi Banerjee)
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