Punjab goes to polls in 2022, this is biggest political challenge before both, the newly-appointed Chief Minister Charanjit S Channi, a Dalit Sikh, and his ‘mentor’ the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief Navjot Singh Sidhu. Together they have to make sure the party retains power in the state, facing multiple challenges both internal and external. Sidhu is said to be the one responsible for ensuring that Channi was named Punjab’s CM, making him the first Dalit to hold the position. Channi is the state’s minister of Technical Education and Industrial Training, Employment Generation & Training, Tourism and Cultural Affairs. That he hails from the Dalit community, has also sent a strong message of equal opportunity for all, even though as cynics comment, ‘it (this) is all for the elections’.
Historic !! Punjab’s first Dalit CM-Designate … Will be written with Golden letters in History. A tribute to the spirit of the Constitution and the Congress !! Congratulations @CHARANJITCHANNI Bai pic.twitter.com/WavudGTPok
— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) September 19, 2021
Charanjit S. Channi’s ‘surprise’ appointment as CM, that was reportedly decided late on Saturday, and announced on Sunday, is also proof that speculations do not matter in the party where decisions are taken only at the top rung of the leadership. Just like the recent ‘surprise’ announcement of first-time MLA Bhupendra Patel, as the new Gujarat CM by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the faction-ridden Punjab Congress too popped a surprise when it picked 58-year-old Channi, to lead it in Punjab, on the eve of the upcoming assembly polls, due in a few months. Channi’s elevation to the top job is also a message to outgoing CM-Captain Amrinder Singh and his ‘camp’ that even the most well connected are replaceable in politics.
Channi now has a challenge to lead the party to victory in the state that has a powerful Jat Sikh community. That he will work closely with the PPCC president Sidhu is a given. With this appointment, the on-going and very public ‘clash’ of egos and political approach between the CM and the party president has been laid to rest for the near future.
Met His Excellency,Governor Punjab today with PPCC President @sherryontopp,Ministers,MLAs and Party Leaders. Oath will be taken as Chief Minister of Punjab on 20th September, 2021 at 11 am in Raj Bhawan with a limited audience.I seek blessings of the Almighty and my well wishers pic.twitter.com/RSwvwlfFQu
— Charanjit S Channi (@CHARANJITCHANNI) September 19, 2021
The state has a “31.9 per cent Scheduled Caste population as per the 2011 census while 31.3 per cent are other backward classes (OBCs). Both sections together total a significant 63.2 per cent of the total population,” as recalled and reported in the media once Channi’s name as Punjab’s first Dalit Chief Minister was announced on Sunday. So far, Channi’s has not really been projected as a ‘Dalit leader’ who has been active in fighting for the cause of the community. According to Indian Express Zora Singh Nasrali, president of Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union called it “an election stunt. Channi is a Dalit as well as a Sikh. Punjab will go to the polls in another four-five months and code of conduct will be imposed 40 days before the elections. So what can the new face do? He will just say I am a new person, trying to understand things.” However, since he is already a minister in the state and not a ‘fresher’ person really, for once the Dalit community will see a representative at the top, and it already has 34 Dalit MLAs. The Dalit vote matters immensely in Punjab. Coupled with this, the on-going farmers protest, with its roots in the state, both will have an impact on the 2022 Assembly elections.
Assembly election in the 2020 under PPCC boss Navjot Singh Sidhu
The election in the state will be helmed by Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Punjab Congress in-charge Harish Rawat told the media on Sunday, adding that even though the ‘CM face’ for the next government will be decided by the Congress president, it is Sidhu, “who is very popular” who will helm the electoral plan of action. Rawat told the media that: “The decision (to choose the new Punjab CM) was taken only yesterday. We were only waiting to meet the Governor. The party was unanimous on Charanjit Singh Channi’s name. We will try to ensure that he (Amarinder Singh) is there at the oath-taking, but it’s up to him.” Rawat added that two deputy chief ministers will also be named. This is an opportunity for the party to nominate those who can represent the other powerful communities of Punjab such as the Jats and the Jat Sikhs. Rawat told the media that while the names were yet to be decided: “Our mutual feeling is that there should be two deputy CMs. Soon we will take a call on it along with names for the Council of Ministers. Some names have been discussed but it’s the CM’s prerogative to make the choice after which he will discuss these with the party high command and take a call.”
Charanjit Singh Channi will take the oath as the new Chief Minister of Punjab on Monday. On Sunday he spoke to the media after meeting Governor Banwarilal Purohit: “We have presented our stance, unanimously supported by party MLAs, before the Governor. Oath taking ceremony will take place at 11 am tomorrow.”
Will this political churn help the AAP or SAD?
It is the Aam Aadmi Party that hopes to gain the most with this political churn in Punjab, a state where it has made a minor impact in and hopes to replicate its Delhi-style political action at. Last year, party leader and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal had said that Captain Amrinder Singh, as Punjab CM, did not stop farm bills when he could. Kejriwal attacked Singh after he was called out by the latter for notifying one of the three laws , he accused Singh of playing “dirty politics on farmers’ protests against three farm bills”, adding that the now ex CM had a “friendship with BJP”.
Now, the AAP is projecting itself as the Congress party’s principal challenger in Punjab polls 2022. The AAP spokesperson Raghav Chadha said, the Congress was a “sinking Titanic ship” adding that “Governance in the state of Punjab has been the biggest casualty in the Congress’ Game of Thrones.”
Governance in the state of Punjab has been the biggest casualty in Congress’s ‘Game of Thrones’ pic.twitter.com/JbbriFhHxy
— Raghav Chadha (@raghav_chadha) September 18, 2021
According to a report in India Today AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh said the Congress was near its end in Punjab, and that “AAP will be the biggest beneficiary” in the state. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) (Sanyukt) leader Parminder Singh Dhindsa told the media that Amarinder Singh was a “scapegoat” that the Congress could now blame for “non-fulfilment of promises” to save its image. Meanwhile, BJP general secretary Tarun Chugh told the media that Amarinder Singh’s resignation was a “panic reaction” and that “the Congress in Punjab is licking the dust to revive itself.”