Punjab government has been kept out of Health Ministry’s function; Amarinder Singh opts out of rally

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Ghabdan Kothi village in Sangrur district of Punjab scheduled for Thursday is set to spark a major controversy.

The State government has termed the function an attempt to dilute the spirit of “co-operative federalism.” The programme has also exposed the deepening division within the Congress.

Mr. Gandhi will address a rally organised by the party, after Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad lays the foundation for the satellite centre of the Post Graduate Institute for Medical Education and Research. The organisers have not invited anyone from the Punjab government, which allotted 25 acres for the project. While Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has said he had pursued the project, which will have a major facility for cancer treatment, Sangrur MP Vijay Inder Singla has sought to portray it as his achievement.

Mr. Badal has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, arguing that the function should be cancelled and underscoring the need to put an end to the “needless confrontation and politicisation of a development issue.” “Mr. Badal strongly urged the Prime Minister to persuade his colleagues not to allow politics to take precedence over issues of development and governmental duties or override basic governmental courtesies,” an official release said.

The Chief Minister said the decision to keep the State government out of the function smacked of petty politicking and a deliberate mischief by some in the Union Ministry. He also accused the Congress State leadership of trying to block grants from the Centre and ordering their leaders not to meet ruling party leaders even at social functions.

Meanwhile, the former Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, has cited “previous engagements” to stay away from the function. It is believed that Capt. Singh is upset that he will not be allowed onto the dais or address the rally.

Pradesh Congress Committee president Partap Singh Bajwa is said to have made overtures to Capt. Singh’s loyalist Arvind Khanna, an MLA from Dhuri, which falls in Sangrur.