A grassroots leader who rose through the ranks rapidly

  • Channi was unanimously elected as the leader of the Congress Legislature Party of Punjab following a flurry of consultations throughout the day.
A grassroots-level leader, Channi entered politics at the age of 20 and became a councillor for the first time in 1992.
A grassroots-level leader, Channi entered politics at the age of 20 and became a councillor for the first time in 1992.
Published on Sep 20, 2021 12:39 AM IST
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ByGurpreet Singh Nibber, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh

Congress leader Charanjit Singh Channi is set to be Punjab’s first Dalit chief minister, barely five months before the state assembly elections are due early next year. The three-time MLA from Chamkaur Sahib constituency is set to be sworn in on Monday morning.

Channi was unanimously elected as the leader of the Congress Legislature Party of Punjab following a flurry of consultations throughout the day. The development comes a day after Captain Amarinder Singh’s sudden exit from the state’s top post, after months of infighting between him and Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.

Channi was born in Punjab’s Bhajauli village near Kurali in 1963. His family was settled in Malaysia where his father worked, but they returned to India in 1955 and settled in Kharar town of SAS Nagar district of Punjab.

A grassroots-level leader, Channi entered politics at the age of 20 and became a councillor for the first time in 1992.

“Heartfelt gratitude and thanks to the top leadership for appointing me Chief Minister of Punjab...I will always work for the welfare of the people and to give new energy and momentum to the sustainable development journey of the state,” the 58-year-old said in a Twitter post.

His political journey began in 2003, after he was elected as the president of the Kharar municipal council, and has since risen through the ranks. He first contested as an independent candidate in 2007 and won from Chamkaur Sahib assembly constituency. He joined the Congress in 2012 and was re-elected as legislator from the same seat.

Channi was the leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly from 2015 to 2016 and was made a minister in the Amarinder Singh Cabinet in March 2017.

The Congress’s decision to name Channi, who belongs to the Ramdasia Sikh community, assumes significance as poll-bound Punjab has a population of nearly 31.9% from the community.

The Shiromani Akali Dal, which has joined hands with the BSP, has already announced that the deputy chief minister post will be given to a Dalit if it wins the assembly polls.

The 58-year-old held the portfolios of Technical Education, Industrial Training, Employment Generation and Tourism and Cultural Affairs in the Singh-led cabinet.

Passionate about bolstering his academic qualifications, Channi is currently enrolled for a doctorate course in Panjab University on the Congress party’s history and evolution and holds degrees in LLB, MBA.

As a minister, Channi bemused everyone when he climbed an elephant in the courtyard of a government bungalow allotted to him, following the advice of an astrologer. Earlier, before taking over as a cabinet minister, he changed the direction of the entrance of the bungalow.

He has also been a vocal critic of the government on the issues related to Dalits like the representation of Scheduled Caste in senior government posts.

Channi was the first to articulate the Congress ministers’ grouse about bureaucrats’ dominance in the Amarinder-led government and seek a better representation of elected representatives. Three months ago, when the state’s case on the sacrilege and police firing cases of 2015 during the Akali-BJP rule fell through in the Punjab and Haryana high court, Channi made a common cause with Amarinder Singh’s detractors in the cabinet and demanded action against the perpetrators in the politically-sensitive cases as was promised by the Congress in the run-up to 2017 assembly polls. As the ranks of Amarinder-baiters grew, Channi firmly aligned himself with state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, who later became Singh’s nemesis and returned the favour by supporting Channi’s name as CM.

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Saturday, November 27, 2021