Congress brought change, took reins of power from elites: Punjab CM Channi
New Delhi: Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi said on Saturday that his elevation to the state’s top executive position has given the poor confidence and is a victory for the country’s democratic system. His predecessor Amarinder Singh was dropped as he did not have time for the people and development work, he added.
Channi, Punjab’s first Dalit chief minister who replaced 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 had undergone that pain. And, that is why all programmes of the Punjab government are towards providing relief to the poor and middle-class people,” the chief minister said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit.
On a Dalit being nominated as chief minister of the state with 32% Dalit population, Channi 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. The Congress adopted Guru Gobind Singh ji’s ideology by giving the power in the hands of the people. That has brought new change,” 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.
Channi admitted that he was, like everyone else, surprised when he was named CM. He cried when Rahul Gandhi conveyed the decision to him, the chief minister said.
“I was afraid. I told Rahul ji, yaar ya kaya kar raho ho (friend, what are you doing?),” he said, adding that he told Rahul Gandhi to nominate someone else.
When Gandhi insisted, Channi, who had been leader of the opposition between 2012 and 2017, said, “I cried on the phone .... I was humbled.”
In the lighter vein, he added, “I was municipal councillor (MC) and now I am CM. So, now MC has become CM. This is magic of democratic system and shows people can rise in life through their hard work and honesty.” He said he counted his appointment as a win for the democratic system because it established that someone born in poverty could rise to become a chief minister.
Channi said Singh was replaced as the Congress felt he had failed to deliver and was not accessible to the people. He lived in a heavily guarded farmhouse and was not accessible to even the MLAs, leaving aside common people of Punjab, the CM added. Moreover, Channi said the party was just implementing Singh’s promise before the 2016 assembly elections that he will not contest again.
“Captain worked for two hours, I sleep for two hours. People used to wait for Captain sahib to wake up...My home is open for people around the clock. 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 Singh “and that shows how wrong he was in his self-assessment”.
Channi also said the Congress party made Amarinder Singh chief minister twice and his wife a Congress MP. “The party did a lot for him. He should have accepted the party’s decision (to remove him) with grace,” he said.
Amarinder Singh’s plans to join hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the upcoming Punjab elections didn’t really come as a surprise to him, the chief minister said. “When he was in Congress and CM, we knew very well that he was half with the BJP,:
On his other political rival in Punjab, Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Channi repeated that Delhi chief minister Kejriwal was a “kala angrez” (dark-complexioned Englishman) as he does not belong to Punjab and does not know anything about the issues in the northern state. “If he (Kejriwal) has objection to black, I would say he is gora angrez (white complexioned Englishman). For us in Punjab, he is an outsider.”
Kejriwal’s party is the main opposition in the Punjab assembly, and is hoping to better its performance in the February-March assembly elections. “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 it. 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 candidate from Chamkaur Sahib assembly seat in 2007, said winnability should be the only criteria for ticket selection in the Punjab elections for Congress.
“I was denied ticket till I won as an independent. I know what it takes to win elections. The party should do a survey and give tickets to those who have the highest winnability score. Tickets should not be allocated through different groups (in the party),” 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. And, while doing so, he recalled the words of Guru Nanak, who preached that those in power should empower the poor.
“My government is doing that. 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 lives.”