Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi speaks on his surprise elevation and what it means
NEW DELHI: Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi on Saturday said his elevation to the state’s top executive position has given the poor confidence and is a win for the country’s democratic system, and that his predecessor Captain Amarinder Singh was dropped as he did not have time for people and development works.
Channi, Punjab’s first Dalit chief minister, who replaced Captain Singh on September 19, said he will ensure that nobody goes through the pain of poverty that he had to undergo in his life. “I understand the pain of poor people, farmers and the middle class as I have gone through that pain. And, that is why all programmes of Punjab government are towards providing relief to poor and middle-class people,” the chief minister said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.
On a Dalit being nominated as the chief minister of the state having 32% Dalit population, the chief minister described it as a change where the power is being transferred from the “elite” to the poor. “Earlier, the power was getting transferred from one elite to another. These elite were even above upper castes. Now, the power is in the hands of people,” he said in a conversation with HT’s national political editor Sunetra Choudhury.
Channi who has been extensively touring the state, occasionally even taking children on a joyride in his official helicopter, said he has opened his home for people around the clock. “One day someone came to me at 12.30am. with a problem. I called the district collector and the problem was sorted out. This is our job and we have to do it,” he said.
On the Congress’s decision to name him chief minister, Channi said he was, like everyone else, surprised too. Channi said he cried when Rahul Gandhi conveyed the decision to him.
“I cried on the phone when Rahul Gandhi told me that I would be CM. I told him please select someone else. But, he told me the decision has been made,” Channi said. In the lighter vein, he said, “I was municipal councillor (MC) and now I am CM. So, now MC has become CM. This is magic of democratic system,” he said, explaining that he counted his appointment as a win for democratic system because it established that someone born in poverty could rise to become a chief minister.
Channi said Captain Amarinder was replaced as he was not accessible to people and lived in a highly-guarded farmhouse and the party was just implementing his promise before the 2016 assembly elections that he will not contest again.
“Captain worked for two hours, I sleep for two hours. That is the difference,” he said. To emphasise his point that the former chief minister did not have a mass base, Channi underlined that not a single Congress MLA went with Captain “and that shows how wrong he was in his self-assessment”.
Channi also said that Amarinder Singh’s plans to join hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for Punjab elections didn’t really come as a surprise to him. “When he was in Congress and CM we knew, he was half with the BJP,” he said.
On his other political rival in Punjab, Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Channi repeated that Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was a “kala angrez” (dark-complexioned Englishman) as Kejriwal does not belong to Punjab and does not know anything about the issues in the northern state.
Kejriwal’s AAP is the main opposition party in the Punjab assembly and is hoping to better its performance in the February-March assembly elections in the state. “People in Punjab don’t believe in Kejriwal,” Channi said.
The 58-year-old chief minister also stressed that he was working together with Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu who is often seen as the party’s in-house critic. “I am open to criticism. If I make a mistake, Sidhu ji tells me and I rectify. We are working together,” he said.
Channi, who recalled that he was denied a ticket to fight the assembly elections by the Congress till he won as an independent from Chamkaur Sahib assembly seat in 2007, said winnability should be the only criteria for ticket selection for Punjab elections for Congress. “The party should do a survey and give tickets to those who have highest winnability score. Tickets should not be allocated to different groups,” he said.
The chief minister said his model of development was one preached by the Sikh gurus and was aimed at empowering the poor so that they can compete with the upper strata of society.
“People are overburdened by taxes imposed by the government. We are trying to provide them relief by making electricity free, waiving water tariffs, reducing prices of fuel and helping them in living better life,” he said.