New Delhi: Thirty-one-year-old Harjot Singh Bains actively participated in the India Against Corruption Movement led by social activist Anna Hazare in Delhi in 2011 and that, he said, was his introduction to “politics of change”.
The idea of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was born of this movement and the party was founded in 2012. Talking to ThePrint last week, Bains recalled meeting party chief Arvind Kejriwal at the AAP’s old office in Kaushambi, Delhi-NCR, the next year, to seek his blessings as one of the founders of the party’s Punjab unit. Bains was then 23 years old.
Less than a decade later, AAP scored a thumping victory in the just-held Punjab assembly elections, results of which were announced on 10 March — 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 from the state’s Anandpur Sahib constituency to become a first-time MLA. He took oath as cabinet minister Saturday, though portfolios are yet to be allocated.
“It is a big responsibility,” Bains, a lawyer by profession, told the media after taking oath. “Arvind Kejriwal has brought back the trust of the youth in politics. Now, we have to rebuild Punjab, adhering to ideas and policies of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (first ruler of the Sikh empire). We have started working on a Punjab model of development.”
A fellow cabinet minister, Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer — the second-youngest member of Mann’s cabinet at 32 years — was also Bains’ comrade during the Anna Hazare movement. Hayer is a second-time AAP Punjab legislator, having won both the 2017 and 2022 assembly elections from Barnala constituency.
“I thank Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann for showing confidence in me. I assure the people of Punjab that I will put all my efforts in ensuring good governance,” Hayer, a mechanical engineer by profession, told the media Saturday.
The two are part of a 10-member cabinet that took oath Saturday. But with a total allowed strength of 17 ministers, seven more are yet to be inducted in the new Punjab cabinet.
Know your ministers
In addition to Bains and Hayer, the new cabinet also includes two doctors (an eye surgeon and a dentist), another lawyer, a former halka (constituency) in-charge of the party, a former municipal councilor, a former civil servant, an agriculturalist and an industrialist.
According to information available in the party records 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 (one of them a Dalit Hindu).
Five of the ministers are from the state’s 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 legislators.
“I thank the top leadership for having trust in me as a leader who, they think, can bring positive change in Punjab’s governance as a minister,” said Cheema, a lawyer by profession, told ThePrint.
The oldest member in the Cabinet is 59-year-old agriculturist and Ajnala MLA Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal. Among the others, is 56-year-old Pandit Brahm Shankar, an industrialist and four-time Congress councilor from Hoshiarpur, who joined AAP in March, 2021, according to party records.
Meanwhile, 46-year-old Baljit Kaur — an eye surgeon and daughter of former AAP member of Parliament from Faridkot, Sadhu Singh — is as yet the only woman member.
The others include forty-seven-year-old Lal Chand Kataruchak, the AAP’s halka in-charge for Bhoa, from where he won the recent assembly elections; former excise and taxation officer and Jandiala MLA 48-year-old Harbhajan Singh, who had contested the 2017 assembly elections unsuccessfully; and 41-year-old Lalit Bhullar, who is a former Shiromani Akali Dal and Congress member, who has never won an election before.
The tenth minister in the cabinet is dentist and Mansa MLA, Vijay Singla, who defeated popular Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala. A Congress candidate, Moosewala, was defeated by Singla by a margin of more than 63,000 votes.
Seven positions yet to be filled
The Punjab cabinet can accommodate 17 ministers, in addition to the CM, of which 10 have been inducted, while names of the remaining seven names are expected to be announced later.
The absence of some prominent names in the first list — such as Aman Arora, Kultar Singh Sandhwan, Baljinder Kaur and Budh Ram — have left several senior party functionaries surprised.
Arora, Sandhwan, Kaur and Ram were all elected for the second time on 10 March. While Sandhwan got elected as the Speaker of the Assembly on 17 March, the other two have not been given any positions yet.
“The missing names of Aman Arora and Budh Ram came as a shock. They were not just seen as candidates with high chances to be in the cabinet, but also front runners for top portfolios,” said a senior party leader in Punjab who did not wish to be identified.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)