Rajasthan: Rupinder Kunnar's win ends ministerial career of BJP's Surinder Singh TT, Cong camp jubilant

"The public has taught a lesson to the BJP, which flouted the code of conduct and morality by making its candidate a minister during the elections," said former CM Ashok Gehlot

Rajasthan Congress chief Govind Dotasra (right) campaigning for Rupinder Singh Kunnar
Rajasthan Congress chief Govind Dotasra (right) campaigning for Rupinder Singh Kunnar

Prakash Bhandari

The Bhajan Lal Sharma government in Rajasthan suffered a humiliating jolt when one of its ministers, Surinderpal Singh TT, who was inducted as a minister of state (independent charge) before he was elected as an MLA, lost the countermanded election from Sri Karanpur in Sriganganagar district within 10 days of being sworn in.

Instead, Congress candidate Rupinder Singh Kunnar won the election by 11,283 votes. The election had been countermanded following the death of Rupinder's father and Congress candidate Gurmeet Singh Kunnar, who passed away in a Delhi hospital after filing his nomination. Following Kunnar’s victory, the  Congress tally in the Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly) has risen to 70.

For a minister who was not even an MLA to be sworn in as a minister of state only to lose the election, is an unprecedented event in the history of the Rajasthan Assembly.

Surinderpal Singh, a retired train ticket examiner (TTE), is nicknamed 'TT' owing to his former profession, and served as a minister twice in the Vasundhara Raje cabinet. He was given four important portfolios following the BJP victory this time, but could not assume office and had to leave for Sri Karanpur immediately after the swearing-in ceremony to campaign. After the swearing-in, he thanked CM Sharma for appointing him as a minister representing the Sikh community.

Former chief minister Ashok Gehlot congratulated Kunnar, saying, “Hearty congratulations and best wishes to Congress candidate Shri Rupinder Singh Kunnar for his victory in Srikaranpur. The people of Srikaranpur have defeated the pride of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The public has taught a lesson to the BJP, which flouted the code of conduct and morality by making its candidate a minister during the elections.”

Pradesh Congress president Govind Singh Dotasra said, “The BJP’s new 'parchi (slip of paper) government' kept changing names of Congress schemes. On the other hand, the public changed their minister.”

The victory is a morale-booster for the Congress before the Lok Sabha elections. The Sikh community has a large population in Sri Ganganagar and Hanumangarh districts adjoining Punjab, and these descendants of migrants from Pakistan are mostly agriculturists. The Karanpur Assembly segment has 2,40,826 voters, including 1,25,850 men and 1,14,966 women, 180 service voters and 10 transgender voters. There was 74.40 per cent polling recorded here on 5 January.

Immediately after the swearing-in, the Congress objected to the appointment of a minister who was about to contest an election. Until the last minute before the swearing-in, the large crowd of party workers, bureaucrats, and police officials along with the media had no clue that Surinderpal Singh would be sworn in as a minister of state.

But Surinderpal’s appointment was approved by the party’s central leadership though he was not yet an MLA, presumably in the belief that he would win the election. The idea apparently was to kill two birds with one stone. One, the high command in Delhi thought that by appointing Surinderpal as minister, his victory in Karanpur could be assured as he was finding the going tough against Rupinder. And two, the BJP wanted to send a positive message to the Sikh community.

In a letter to the Election Commission, Dotasra had stated, “The party (BJP) in power has defied the model code of conduct (MCC) by administering the oath of office to the BJP candidate from Karanpur. The act is meant to influence the voters as voting is scheduled in Karanpur on January 5. His appointment as minister is a clear violation of election laws.”

Quoting various aspects of the laws, Dotasra had pointed out that from the time elections are announced under clause 32 of the election laws, ministers and other authorities shall not accept any financial grants in any form or promises thereof, or lay foundation stones, or make any ad hoc appointments in the government which could influence voters.

Dotasra had also said the appointment of a candidate as a minister was in utter disregard to the principles of elections, where a level playing field is of the essence. The Election Commission is duty-bound to conduct elections in a free and fair way, he had stated, adding that such an appointment would have the effect of influencing the electorate and was an act of serious impropriety.

Dotasra urged the EC to disqualify Surinderpal Singh from contesting the election from Karanpur, a demand to which Gehlot had added his support. But the EC had taken no cognisance of the complaint. With the defeat of Surinderpal Singh, the issue is now finally settled.

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