ED crackdown on Channi’s kin raises Punjab poll fever

The recent ED raids at the premises of Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s nephew and others and the subsequent recovery of over Rs 10 crore in an illegal mining case, have given ample ammo to his political rivals to launch an offensive against him ahead of polls, reports Rajesh Moudgil

Within days of the flak the Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi faced for the “security breach’’ during January 5 Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Punjab, the recent ED raids at the premises of his nephew and others in connection with an illegal mining case, have now brought him under heavy fire from all his political rivals ahead of upcoming assembly polls in the state.

The elections are scheduled for February 20 in Punjab and the counting of votes would be held on March 10.

Taking on his bete noire Channi head-on, the former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh maintained that the January 18 ED seizure from Channi’s kin was a follow-up on the case that the agency had registered after he had ordered an inquiry while he was heading the government till September last year.

It may be recalled that Capt was unceremoniously removed from chief ministership after several of his party legislators including Channi and state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu rebelled against him last year. Capt Amarinder Singh not only left the chair but also the Congress party in September last year and later formed his own Punjab Lok Congress. He is fighting elections in alliance with BJP and Akali Dal (Samyukt).

Hitting out at Channi, the former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh held that unfortunately, he had been unable to take any serious action against the Congress MLAs who were involved in illegal mining in the state as that would have damaged the party’s interests and party top leader Sonia Gandhi had failed to respond to his query on which minister or MLA she wanted him to sack over the issue.

Also coming down heavily on the state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu’s claims of fighting the sand mafia, he added that Sidhu had himself led the September rebellion of the MLAs who were involved in illegal mining, against him, thus clearly exposing his own interest in sheltering them.

Likewise, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has also launched a tirade against Channi over the issue of the sand mafia. An AAP delegation led by Punjab election co-in-charge and Delhi legislator Raghav Chadha has submitted a memorandum to Punjab governor Banwarilal Purohit seeking his immediate intervention in what he termed as multi-layered illegal sand mining racket in Punjab.

The former revenue minister and firebrand Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikram Singh Majithia has pointedly accused Channi of being involved in the illegal mining business. He has alleged that Channi had approved mining from protected forest land as the latter had with him the mining and environment portfolio too.

While the BJP state chief Ashwani Sharma has alleged that illegal mining mafias were operating in the state under the patronage of senior Congress leaders.

However, the first to take on Channi after the ED raids, was AAP national convenor and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal who had called Channi a dishonest man and had also linked Channi with the illegal business. He alleged that while AAP leaders had been “exposing’’ the illegal mining taking place in Channi’s own constituency Chamkaur Sahib. But no action had been taken and it showed that Channi and his kin were involved in it.

Channi rebuts charges

Reacting strongly against charges levelled against him, Channi has lashed out at Arvind Kejriwal for, what he held, defaming him over the recent raids of Enforcement Directorate (ED) and calling him a “dishonest man’’.

Stating that Kejriwal had crossed all limits on social media showing him with currency notes which were not recovered from him, he has also threatened to sue him for defamation.

Candidly admitting that it was his failure that he could not keep an eye on the deeds of his kin, Channi, however, said still he was not responsible for the wrongdoing of people other than his family and held that he had no connection with the money seized from his nephew’s home. He said that he was only responsible if the money was found from his, or his wife or his son’s house.

He alleged that Kejriwal was in the habit to level such baseless charges against others too, and recalled how it was because of levelling of such allegations that Kejriwal had tendered his apologies to Nitin Gadkari, Arun Jaitley, and Bikram Majithia in the past. Channi also asked his Delhi counterpart the source of Rs 200 crore which, he held, had been spent by his (Kejriwal’s) AAP in its propaganda campaigns in Punjab.

Lashing out at BJP, several Congress leaders including AICC media in-charge Randeep Surjewala accused the saffron party of planting the money to defame Channi. They maintained Channi and his family had nothing to do with this case and the BJP was trying to take revenge from a Dalit chief minister.

Chhani also accused the BJP-led central government of hatching a “conspiracy” to “trap” him in an old case in which raids were conducted now by the ED at many places in the state.

He pointed out that whenever elections were to take place, the BJP government at the Centre used agencies like the ED, Income Tax, and others against its political opponents to target and arm-twist them.

Channi also rejected Majithia’s allegations saying that these were baseless and frivolous. He went on to accuse Majithia of taking revenge for booking him in a drug case last month by his government.

It is pertinent to note here that Majithia was booked by the Channi government for his alleged involvement in a drugs case. The Punjab and Haryana High Court has dismissed the anticipatory bail application of Majithia who has been booked in a drugs case registered against him on December 20, last year, related to allowing illicit drugs smuggling and harbouring offenders involved in the drugs trade.