Chandigarh: This could be termed the height of irony, even in the strange world of politics. Two ministers in Punjab’s Parkash Singh Badal-led government, convicted in separate cases and even handed down prison sentences, have resigned on high “moral grounds”.
Cabinet minister Jagir Kaur, who was handling the rural water supply and sanitation and defence services portfolio, was found guilty on counts of forcible abortion of her daughter Harpreet Kaur as well as wrongful confinement, abduction and criminal conspiracy. And agriculture minister Tota Singh was convicted of misuse of official machinery.
Interestingly, both ministers claimed to hold the high “moral ground” while finally resigning from their plum posts.
Jagir Kaur was forced to resign March this year after a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) special court in Patiala convicted and also sentenced her to five years’ rigorous imprisonment. The lone woman minister in the Badal government, she was, however, cleared by the court of the charge of murder of her 19-year-old daughter Harpreet Kaur.
Harpreet had angered her mother and other family members by secretly marrying a youth, Kamaljit Singh, who belonged to a lower caste. She had died under mysterious circumstances April 2000.
The latest ‘fall’ guy in the Badal cabinet is Tota Singh. He was forced to resign after a vigilance court in Mohali town, 10 km from here, convicted him of misuse of official machinery last Saturday.
Tota Singh was held guilty of forging the log book of an official car belonging to the Punjab School Education Board (PSEB) while he was Punjab’s education minister (1997-2002).
Though the court spared Tota Singh on the more serious charges of assets disproportionate to his known sources of income and forgery, he was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment. He was allowed bail by the court immediately.
In fact, Tota Singh waited for over three full days before finally handing over his resignation.
“He had offered to resign after the court verdict. However, I had asked him to wait,” Chief Minister Badal told reporters in Mohali Tuesday.
But not everyone is buying the high “moral grounds” stand of the ex-ministers.
“What moral ground are they talking about? They have been convicted by courts after following the due process of law. The simple truth is that they have been convicted and are like any other convicted criminals. They should have been, instead, sacked from their posts by the chief minister,” said a former minister in the Congress government.
Jagir Kaur, who is lodged in the modern Kapurthala jail, which is in her home district of Kapurthala, and has been enjoying VIP status right from the moment she was arrested, has now moved the Punjab and Haryana high court against her conviction.
Tota Singh too is moving the high court against his conviction.
With the exit of these two ministers, both considered close to the chief minister, the strength of the Badal government has been reduced to 16 from 18. The chief minister has not indicated whether he will induct two new ministers or wait for the verdict of the higher court on the appeals of both ex-ministers against their conviction.
There are murmurs within the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal that the chief minister should uphold the “political moral ground” and get in new replacements.