Punjab: 'Commoner' Channi takes on AAP and Amarinder

However, as Sunil Jakhar's comments showed, the turmoil in the Punjab Congress is here to stay
Last Updated 21 September 2021, 12:37 IST

Charanjit Singh Channi, the 58-year-old Dalit chief minister of Punjab, will at best get a four-month apprenticeship to prove his mettle. On day one of his stewardship, Channi and his two deputies took a slew of "pro-poor" decisions.

Even as a section of state Congress leadership sought to discredit his elevation, Channi seemed aware that his tenure would be short-lived and conscious of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) 's challenge in the forthcoming Assembly polls.

"If someone asks who is an aam aadmi, I suggest look at me, I am one," he said, taking a swipe at both the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Amarinder Singh, the scion of the royal house of Patiala. Channi had raised a banner of revolt against Amarinder Singh in recent times.

Taking a cue from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who once hailed himself as a proud tea-seller, in the same vein, Channi tried to establish common ground with all the immigrants who are now voters of Punjab. To them, he said his father had pulled a rickshaw, and he had pulled one, and he was one like them.

Channi also spoke of his rural background. "My mother and I have collected cow dung and fodder," he said, connecting with the farmers and rural voters of Punjab. He didn't need to make the same appeal to his Dalit brethren, who comprise 30 per cent of the voters of Punjab.

To counter AAP's promise of free electricity up to 300 units if voted to power, Channi's government proposed increasing free power consumption from 200 units to 300 units. It also offered to waive off electricity dues of tubewells and free water supply in rural areas for non-agricultural use. There was also a proposal to cut domestic water and sewerage tariffs in urban areas and prioritise constructing houses for the economically weaker sections.

However, the Congress high command's plan to bring the turmoil in Punjab Congress to an end with Channi's appointment was not to be. The Congress, it would seem, likes drama more than stability, even if it means harakiri.

The drama started unfolding within 24 hours of the announcement that Channi was to be the new CM. Punjab Congress in-charge Harish Rawat tweeted to remind Channi that he was, at the most, a night watchman. Rawat tweeted that the Congress will fight the 2022 Assembly polls under the leadership of Navjot Singh Sidhu.

Sidhu is at the centre of the recent turn of events. He had also displaced Sunil Jakhar as the state unit chief of the Congress in July, and Jakhar chose the ongoing crisis to hit back. "It (contesting the 2022 polls under Sidhu's leadership) will undermine the CM's authority and also negate the very 'raison d’être' of his selection for this position," Jakhar tweeted.

To quell such speculation, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told the media that the party would fight the Punjab polls under the leadership of both Charanjit Singh Channi and Sidhu.

However, Channi has found little time to cherish his new chair. The countdown to the end of his tenure began the moment his swearing-in ceremony ended. The new CM doesn't have time, and his struggle would be how to make time. He could learn from the mistakes of his predecessor Amarinder Singh that he shouldn't promise what he cannot deliver.

To Channi's credit, in his first press conference as the chief minister of Punjab, he displayed political sagacity to touch upon the issue of be-adbi (blasphemy) but in passing. Channi said he would not like to meet people involved in illegal sand mining.

If during Channi's tenure, the turmoil in Punjab Congress doesn't end and if the party loses the 2022 assembly elections, his tenure will be nothing more than a token of remembrance for him and his family. Not to forget, it could also endanger his political career.

Channi is fortunate to be the chief minister. He will have to play a T20 innings to show his calibre to remain a vital member of the team that will lead the Congress into the electoral battle and possibly in the next government.

(The writer is a journalist based in Chandigarh)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

(Published 21 September 2021, 12:37 IST)

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