Charanjit Singh Channi is Punjab’s first Dalit CM
Punjab got its first Dalit chief minister on Sunday, with the Congress electing three-time MLA Charanjit Singh Channi as leader of the legislature party.
His name was announced by Punjab affairs in-charge Harish Rawat on Twitter after a series of meetings and direct feedback gathered by central observers Ajay Maken and Harish Chaudhary from MLAs.
“It gives me immense pleasure to announce that Sh. Charanjit Singh Channi has been unanimously elected as the leader of CLP of Punjab,” Rawat tweeted.
The new leader was named a day after Capt Amarinder Singh resigned from the post. “My best wishes to Charanjit Singh Channi. I hope he’s able to keep the border state of Punjab safe and protect our people from the growing security threat from across the border,” the former CM said, wishing his successor.
Channi represents the Chamkaur Sahib constituency in the state assembly. Amarinder’s relations with Channi were uneasy throughout his tenure, and the latter was among the cabinet ministers who rebelled against him.
Accompanied by Rawat, central observers and several ministers, Channi met Governor Banwarilal Purohit on Sunday evening at the Raj Bhavan in Chandigarh and staked his claim to form the government. “The oath-taking ceremony will be held at 11am on Monday,” Channi told reporters after the meeting.
The Congress has also decided to appoint two deputy chief ministers. The names of Brahm Mohindra, a Hindu face, and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, who is a Jat Sikh, are learnt to be more or less final for the deputy CM’s posts. Randhawa is also being considered for home and vigilance portfolios, according to sources. Both were minister in the Amarinder Singh cabinet. Earlier, former Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar, a key frontrunner for the CM’s post, was also offered one of these slots by two central leaders before the Channi’s name was made public. “First, one of the central observers phoned him to offer the deputy chief ministership, but he refused. Later, an AICC general secretary spoke to him, but the former PCC chief did not budge, telling them that he was not after any post, according to sources.
His appointment is being touted by some party leaders as a “strategic move” to counter the attempts of rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) to woo Dalit voters. The BJP has already declared that if voted to power in the state in next year’s assembly elections, it will have a Dalit CM. The SAD has struck an electoral alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), with the promise to pick a deputy chief minister from the community if they get the numbers to form the government in 2022.
At 32%, Dalits constitute almost a third of the state’s population—the highest anywhere in the country.
The surprise announcement of Channi’s name came after hours of hectic parleys that saw the scales tilt in favour of different leaders in the party leadership’s quest for consensus, with some party MLAs, at one stage, even declaring cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa as the next CM.
The past 24 hours were full of dramatic turns and twists as the name of former state unit president Sunil Jakhar was almost finalized on Saturday evening with the backing of former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi.
However, the party did not announce it after some MLAs, who met Rawat and the two central observers on the sidelines of the CLP meeting on Saturday, pushed for a Sikh chief minister.
Punjab has never had a non-Sikh CM since the reorganization of the state in 1966.
A few others stressed that the new leader should be from among the MLAs.
In the morning, Rajya Sabha MP Ambika Soni emerged as the frontrunner, but she opted out, saying that a Sikh leader should be made the chief minister. After the CLP scheduled at 11 am was cancelled for want of consensus, Rawat and the two observers called up MLAs to know their preference and cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa emerged as the favourite.
Before his name was even announced, Congress MLAs had started reaching his official residence to congratulate him. “His name did not go down well with Sidhu who saw him as a competitor in future,” a party leader aware of the developments said. Later, the party leaders declared Channi, whose name was doing the rounds for the post of deputy chief minister, as the new legislature party leader.