Chandigarh: Ten legislators, comprising eight greenhorns, on Saturday took oath in the first Cabinet formation by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab led by Bhagwant Mann at a swearing-in ceremony here.
The ministers include one woman, four Scheduled Castes (SCs) and two Hindus.
There are a total of 18 berths in the Cabinet, including the Chief Minister.
Governor Banwarilal Purohit administered the oath of office and secrecy to the ministers in the Raj Bhawan.
Except former Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema, a prominent Dalit face, and Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer, the rest eight ministers are first-time legislators.
They are Baljit Kaur from Malout, Harbhajan Singh ETO from Jandiala, Vijay Singla from Mansa, Lal Chand Kataru Chak from Bhoa, Kuldip Singh Dhaliwal from Ajnala, Laljit Singh Bhullar from Patti, Brahm Shankar from Hoshiarpur and Harjot Singh Bains from Anandpur Sahib.
Baljit Kaur, who won from Malout, happens to be the lone woman to have found a ministerial berth.
An eye surgeon, 46, she is the daughter of Sadhu Singh, who remained an AAP MP from Faridkot from 2014 to 2019.
She joined AAP after resigning from her government job at the Muktsar civil hospital. During election meetings, she had even examined eye patients.
Kaur defeated SAD nominee Harpreet Singh by 40,261 votes from Malout in Muktsar district.
The other doctor in the new Cabinet is Vijay Singla, 52, won from Mansa. He defeated popular Punjabi singer and Congress candidate Shubhdeep Singh, also called Sidhu Moosewala, by a margin of 63,323 votes.
Singla is a dentist and did Bachelor of Dental Surgery from Punjabi University, Patiala.
Surprisingly, the claim of second-timer legislator Aman Arora, a prominent Hindu face who won his Sunam seat with the biggest margin of 75,000 votes, has been ignored.
In 2018, when Mann had resigned from the post of the state president after Arvind Kejriwal apologised to Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikram Singh Majithia over allegations of drug trade, Arora too had quit AAP. Later, both rejoined the party.
Of the 10, five legislators represent Malwa region, four Majha and one from Doaba.
Four ministers represent reserve constituencies — Dirba, Jandiala, Malout and Bhoa.
Announcing the names of the 10 legislators who will be sworn in as ministers in the Cabinet, Mann a day earlier said: “The people of Punjab have given a lot of responsibility to us, we have to serve the people by working hard day and night and give an honest government to Punjab. We have to make ‘Rangla Punjab’.”
Also a day earlier, the AAP government nominated party second-time legislator Kultar Singh Sandhwan as the speaker of the 117-member Assembly.
Sandhwan, a vocal voice on issues of the farmers, will be formally elected as the speaker on March 21. Protem speaker Inderbir Singh Nijjar, a first-term legislator, administered oath to all newly-elected legislators, including Mann, on Thursday.
Former leader of Opposition, Cheema, 48, is considered a loyalist of Chief Minister Mann, a two-time MP from Sangrur, and represents one of the most backward constituencies, Dirba, reserved for candidates from the Scheduled Castes.
Elected to the Vidhan Sabha for the first time in 2017, Cheema bears a clean and low-key image in the AAP.
He defeated Shiromani Akali Dal nominee Gulzar Singh by a margin of 50,655 votes. In the 2017 Assembly election, he won the seat by a thin margin of 1,645 votes. His political career rose rapidly after he was appointed the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly in 2018, replacing a dominant Jat Sikh leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira, now a Congress legislator.
Dalit lawyer Cheema had joined the AAP just before the 2017 Assembly elections. Before that, he unsuccessfully contested the zila parishad elections as an Independent.
The other second-timer legislator in the Cabinet is Meet Hayer, 33, who won the Barnala seat by defeating Kewal Singh Dhillon of the Congress by a margin of 2,432 votes in 2017.
In 2022, he retained the seat by 64,800 votes.
Interestingly, the seats of both Cheema and Hayer fall in the Sangrur parliamentary constituency, which was twice represented by Chief Minister Mann, who alone took the oath of office in Khatkar Kalan, the village of legendary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, who laid down his life for the country’s Independence, amidst a mass gathering on March 16.
The day after he was sworn in as Chief Minister, Mann announced to launch an anti-corruption helpline on March 23, the death anniversary of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, where people can send audio and video clips of officials seeking bribes and clarified that no corrupt official would be spared.
The AAP recorded a thumping win by claiming 92 of the Assembly’s 117 seats. The ruling Congress won 18, down from 77 in 2017.
Of the 85 debutant MLAs, 82 belong to AAP. Also Mann entered the Assembly for the first time.