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Trouble Brews In Punjab

Chief Minister H.S. Brar faces a concerted rebellion

Trouble Brews In Punjab

THE rebellion by Congress MLAs in Punjab after the ruling party won just two of the 13 seats in the Lok Sabha elections was only to be expected. But does the solution lie in sacking Chief Minister H.S. Brar?

Yes, say the rebels. "Brar doesn't want a confrontation with the Akalis," fumes legislator Lal Singh. "Can such a leader take us to victory? He has to go if terrorism is not to return to the state."

Brar, aver the rebels, lacks political vision. He didn't step out and canvass for support. Instead, his ministers campaigned in Faridkot, where his daughter Bablu was in the running. Bablu lost.

Others say that Brar is too soft-hearted to fight hard electoral battles. On his part, Brar blames the losses on police excesses and corruption during the Beant Singh regime. A rebel MP, however, alleges that Brar has a secret understanding with Akali chief Parkash Singh Badal, who is related to Brar via marriage links.

State Congress chief Virendra Kataria, with whom Brar has had differences ever since the high command shot down Brar's claim for the post, is now advocating a tie-up with the BSP and says that such a step could give the Congress up to 60 more seats than the present 85 it has in the assembly.

The rebels, who include former union minister Buta Singh and MP Satindar Kaur, accuse Brar of being inaccessible, corrupt and nepotic. They also think he is vengeful, out to undo all that Beant Singh had accomplished. "False cases have been foisted on those who oppose him," says MLA Surinder Kapoor, whose son is among those implicated.

State Finance Minister Kewal Krishen says the moves to oust Brar are being prompted by Delhi politicians. The numbers game is even, but that, given the manner in which Brar himself was elected CLP leader (he was opposed by the MLAs and proposed by the MPs), means nothing. Says rebel MLA Santook Singh Choudhary: "Brar doesn't have any supporters. Only ministers. They'll fall in line when the high command asks them to."

Congress bosses are reluctant to give in because they don't want to send wrong signals to Narasimha Rao's detractors. "Brar is the tallest of the lot, and clean," says a loyalist minister. "The rebels just want a pliable chief minister, preferably a woman, who will allow them to collect their loot before the assembly elections."

The rebels themselves want a Jat Sikh. Kataria, whom the high command is in favour of if Brar is to go, has told them that an MLA would be preferred if the baton changes hands.

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