'Accidental CM' Channi faces hurdles

'Accidental CM' Channi faces hurdles

Amarinder Singh is up to ensure that Sidhu does not get the coveted post even after the Assembly polls

Charanjit Singh Channi. Credit: PTI File Photo

Charanjit Singh Channi is the “accidental” Chief Minister of Punjab, his name having come through the infamous “elimination round” that is often part and parcel of political systems. But it is a development which many in Congress believe will end up benefiting it electorally.

A senior but low profile leader from the Sikh Dalit community, Channi, who took oath as CM September 20, was mindful of reason for his elevation; he hailed Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as a “revolutionary” leader. Standing next to PCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is widely believed as the future face of the party to take over as next CM if Congress wins the Assembly polls due early next year, the MLA from Chamkaur Sahib gave a long speech spelling out his vision for the state pitching his government as one dedicated to “Aam Aadmi and Kisan”.

Channi’s taking over led to the impression that he was only a stop-gap arrangement; it threatened to undo any of the electoral gains that Congress could reap by naming a Dalit as CM. This forced AICC in-charge Harish Rawat to correct his earlier statement and clarify that the 2022 Assembly election will be fought with both Sidhu and Channi as the party faces.

Also read: New Punjab Cabinet: 7 fresh faces likely to join Channi's team

Now this is a tight rope walk that the Congress has do to in a state which has more than 31% Dalit population while it is the Jat Sikh, who has dominated the Chief Ministerial space ever since it came into being. Channi is the first Dalit CM. Former CM Captain Amarinder Singh as well as Sidhu are from Jat Sikh community. In this backdrop, both the situations - either replacement or continuation of Channi if Congress wins the election, will be a tricky affair for the party.

Sidhu could not be made CM because the party was keen to avoid a clear split with the outgoing CM declaring publicly he would fight any such move “tooth and nail”. That the Congress has not gone hammer and tongs slamming the former CM even after his direct attack on Gandhi siblings (Rahul and Priyanka), calling them “inexperienced”, tells a lot about the worry in the party if the Captain chooses to rock the boat midway, by splitting the party. Congress is not keen to fire the former CM so that he gets an opportunity to “play the victim card” but Singh has already unleashed a campaign against not only Sidhu and the party’s central leadership but also against the Channi.

Amarinder Singh is up to ensure that Sidhu does not get the coveted post even after the Assembly polls. “If Sidhu behaves as super CM, Punjab Congress won’t function,” he said after Sidhu shared a photo of his accompanying the Chief Minister and the two newly-appointed Deputy Chief Ministers in a chartered flight to Delhi to meet the Congress top brass.

The new CM has the challenge of proving that he is not a “dummy” or a “rubber stamp”, an impression, which could spoil the prospects of Congress as well as he himself.

Sukhbir Singh Badal, chief of Opposition party Akali Dal, which has tied up with Mayawati’s BSP, asked the Congress to spell out who its CM’s face is for the next year’s Assembly polls. “First, the Congress high command announced one name but when an objection was raised it announced two names. Soon, there may be three leaders who will be given this assignment. Punjabis want to know who the real leader is,” Badal said in a statement.

With internal rumblings continuing within state Congress and Opposition Akali Dal, AAP and BJP not sparing a single opportunity to slam the new dispensation, Channi has a tough target in the border state to live up to the expectation, given the hierarchical nature of the politics and the shadow of Sidhu.

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