Infighting to polls: Channi faces tall task

The aftereffects of a bitter showdown between Amarinder and Navjot Singh Sidhu are already casting a shadow on Channi’s tenure. He takes the onerous charge when incessant infighting – unlikely to ebb in the days to come – has sapped the party’s morale, making a rebound tougher
Charanjit Singh Channi.
Charanjit Singh Channi.
Published on Sep 20, 2021 01:20 AM IST
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ByRamesh Vinayak and Navneet Sharma

Charanjit Singh Channi is the surprise pick of the Congress for the chief minister’s post in Punjab to succeed the party stalwart Captain Amarinder Singh, who has had an unceremonious exit barely five months before the state goes to the polls early next year.

The state’s first Dalit chief minister, with a limited mass base and a pan-Punjab appeal, faces a host of challenges that will test not only his political acumen but also his administrative skills as the party races against the clock to offset the political damage ahead of the electoral slugfest, experts say.

The aftereffects of a bitter showdown between Amarinder and Navjot Singh Sidhu are already casting a shadow on Channi’s tenure. He takes the onerous charge when incessant infighting – unlikely to ebb in the days to come – has sapped the party’s morale, making a rebound tougher. Working with a fractious frontline leadership, clearly divided between the Captain and Sidhu camps, will be a Sisyphean task, they suggest.

Channi knows the challenges ahead only too well. For, he was among the disgruntled Congress leaders who were calling attention to problems, ranging from growing anti-incumbency, non-fulfilment of poll promises and insufficient bureaucratic accountability when Amarinder was at the helm.

Channi will have to hit the ground running to fulfil the 18-point to-do list of pending promises that the high command handed to Amarinder three months ago for implementation before the state polls. The pending promises, particularly the delivery of justice in the 2015 sacrilege and police firing cases, action against “big fish” involved in drug rackets, scrapping “faulty” power purchase agreements with private generators – these contentious issues were at the heart of a bitter tussle between Amarinder and Sidhu-led dissenters, including Channi.

“Now, the shoe is on the other foot,” said a senior Congress leader who asked not to be named. “The new CM will have to act quickly to turn the tide and avoid being accused of following in his predecessor’s footsteps.”

Another challenge before the new CM will be to take everyone in the crisis-ridden state unit along by giving adequate representation to various social groups as well as warring factions who are pulling the party in different directions, in addition, to quickly putting together his team of officers and advisers. Also, he will have to find a way to reach out to his combative predecessor, who is sore over his “humiliation” by the leadership but still holds sway. It is an open secret that the power dice rolled in Channi’s favour after Sidhu backed him as part of the PCC chief’s well-crafted stratagem of edging out the heavyweight contenders Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Sunil Jakhar, who could have been potential challengers in the 2022 sweepstakes.

Ashutosh Kumar, professor of political science, Panjab University, sees Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s hand behind Channi’s appointment. “It is not a masterstroke as is being made out, but a big gamble as there could be a flip side depending on how the Jat Sikhs react,” he said.

“If he wants to do well, Channi will have to be his own man, act decisively and not worry too much about the sizeable egos,” he added. That may be a tall order as Sidhu is set to play a dominant role in the post-Amarinder power politics. Given the overwhelming challenges and expectations after the change of guard, a mild-mannered Channi has a lot to prove.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2021