This time changing contours of Congress leadership has brought a Dalit chief minister in the Jat-dominated political scene who is vocal about the social issues and close to Gandhi Family.
Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit Sikh leader and close aide of the PPCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, took oath as the 16th chief Chief Minister of Punjab, a day after Captain Amarinder Singh resigned from this post.
The swearing-in ceremony took place at Raj Bhavan, where Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, AICC in¬charge of Harish Rawat, Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and other party leaders were also present.
Two Deputy Chief Ministers — O.P. Soni and Sukhjinder Randhawa — also took the oath of office. The first Dalit leader to hold government in the state, Mr Channi’s name had emerged during a power battle among the Jat Sikh leaders for the role.
Profile of The Chief Minister
Charanjit Singh Channi is an MLA from Chamkaur Sahib. He held the Ministry of Technical Education, Employment Generation and Training, Tourism and Culture Affairs offices under Amarinder Singh. He was the opposition leader in the Punjab Legislative Assembly during the previous SAD-BJP regime.
Mr Channi has been an active voice in raising the Dalit issues in the state. His first take after being sworn in was asking the Centre to withdraw the farm laws, saying his party stood firmly with the farmers agitating against the “black” laws.
He was also among those rebelling against Amarinder Singh for “not paying attention” to issues raised by party leaders.
Along with the state party chief, he has close associations with AICC leader Rahul Gandhi. Congress high command considered him first for the post of Chief Minister when two Jat Sikhs, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and PPCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, opposed the party’s move to appoint Sunil Jakhar as he was a Hindu leader.
A Move With Ulterior Motives?
The changing contours of Congress leaders have come six months ahead of state assembly elections in Punjab.
This CM pick is very significant as 31.9% of the state’s population hails from Dalit Community. Opposition and Analysts have also termed this “a move used for fishing for the majority vote in the state.”
Highlighting the appointment of the Dalit leader for such a short time, the BSP chief Mayawati, who is also an ally of Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab, called this action an “electoral gimmick”.
There are other pronounced apprehensions in and outside the party about the role Congress state chief Navjot Singh Sidhu will play in the leadership of Punjab.
Harish Rawat’s statement claiming that the Assembly election would be fought under the leadership of Mr Sidhu left a trail that the Opposition and the PPCC members dissatisfied with the current move were quick to follow.
BJP MP and party national secretary Vinod Sonkar called this strategy of Congress their “lip service” to the idea of Dalit empowerment.
Sunil Jakhar, who was in the reckoning for the chief minister’s post, expressed resentment over Mr Rawat’s statement in a tweet calling it “baffling” and said it “undermines the Chief Minister’s authority”.
Following this, the party’s spokesperson corrected the damage control as “the leadership under both Sidhu and Channi” and called Mr Rawat’s statement “misconstrued and misrepresented”.
However, the party could not throw dust over the growing turmoil inside the party politics.
A Wider Lens
Last week Bhupendra Patel, belonging to the majority community, took the helm of Congress politics in Gujarat.
Several people are speculating regarding the removal of the current CM Bhupesh Bhagel in Chhattisgarh.
There are also hints of Cabinet Expansion in Rajasthan, where Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy, Sachin Pilot, have been in constant power battle for a long time.
All these states are set to go to elections soon. It will be an exciting sight to see which state moves next in line towards change in leadership.