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Liberal Opinion: NDA’s hat-trick of naming defeated MPs of Punjab on the Union Council of Ministers

Undeterred by its drawing a blank in Punjab in the just concluded Lok Sabha elections, BJP-led NDA has completed a hat-trick of nominating defeated candidates on the Union Council of Ministers. This appears to be a part of the larger game plan of the Bhartiya Janta Party in spreading its voter base in the border State where it until a couple of years had sworn a partnership with the oldest regional party, Shiromani Akali Dal.

Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi surprised all by naming Ravneet Bittu, grandson of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, on the Council of Ministers. Beant Singh was assassinated while in office.

Ravneet Bittu, three-time MP, lost the last Lok Sabha election on a BJP ticket from Ludhiana. Ravneet, who once headed Youth Congress, represented Congress in Lok Sabha, once from Sri Anandpur Sahib and twice from Ludhiana. He lost to his friend, ex-colleague and President of the Punjab Congress Committee, Amarinder Singh Warring, by 20,000 votes.

Since Punjab voters did not elect any of the 13 candidates put up by the BJP in Punjab, the BJP leadership has once again put its weight behind a defeated candidate while giving representation to the State in the Union Council of Ministers. Ravneet Bittu was sworn in as Union Minister of State. Talking about his new role, he was quoted by Media saying that he would “serve as a bridge between Punjab and the Centre.”

In 2014, BJP put up its senior leader Arun Jaitley from Amritsar, which of late has come to be known as a Congress stronghold. In the 21 Lok Sabha elections, the seat has gone to Congress on 14 occasions.

Congress had put up then its stalwart and former Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, to oppose Arun Jaitley. Though Captain won by a huge margin, the BJP-led NDA named Arun Jaitley as the Union Finance Minister and subsequently got him elected to Rajya Sabha to ensure his continuation in the Council of Ministers.

The same was repeated in 2019 when the BJP-led NDA put up diplomate-turned-politician Hardeep Singh Puri from Amritsar. He met the same fate and was convincingly defeated by Gurjeet Singh Aujla. Repeating what the NDA did in 2014, Hardeep Singh Puri was named to the Union Council of Ministers with an independent charge of Civil Aviation. Later, his portfolio was changed. He was also subsequently elected to Rajya Sabha.

Now when the party drew a blank in Punjab, it has put its trust in young Ravneet Bittu, who quit Congress days before he was named party candidate from the Ludhiana Lok Sabha seat. Though Ravneet Bittu lost to Raja Amarinder Singh Warring, he was pleasantly surprised to get a call on Saturday evening that he should be in Delhi on Sunday for the swearing-in ceremony.

At the time of quitting Congress, Ravneet had commented that “one cannot get things done while sitting in the Opposition.” Praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah he expressed his complete loyalty and confidence in the BJP-led NDA. His hopes of retaining the Ludhiana Lok Sabha seat were dashed as his friend and old colleague came from outside to defeat him in his den.

Ravneet, even in his defeat, has been a winner as he hopes to get long-standing demands of Punjab conceded by the third consecutive NDA government at the centre.

(Prabhjot Singh is a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience of 14 years with Reuters News and 30 years with The Tribune Group, covering a wide spectrum of subjects and stories. He has covered Punjab and Sikh affairs for more than three decades besides covering seven Olympics and several major sporting events and hosting TV shows.)


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