The All India Congress Committee (AICC) on September 19 announced 58-year-old Charanjit Singh Channi as the leader of Punjab Congress Legislature Party (CLP), who would be State’s next Chief Minister.
AICC in-charge of Punjab affairs Harish Rawat announced the name of the new CLP leader on Twitter. “It gives me immense pleasure to announce that Sh. #CharanjitSinghChanni has been unanimously elected as the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party of Punjab,” he said.
Meanwhile party sources say Rahul Gandhi is likely to attend the oath-taking ceremony on Monday.
Soon after being elected as CLP leader, Mr Channi along with other party leaders met Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit to stake claim to form the new government.
“After Congress Legislature Party’s unanimous decision, we met the Governor and presented our claim to form the government. Governor has assigned a time slot of 11 a.m. on September 20 for the oath taking ceremony,” said Mr Channi, who is set to become the first Dalit Chief Minister of Punjab.
Mr. Channi, a close aide of State PCC president Navjot Singh Sidhu, was one among the Cabinet ministers in the outgoing government, who rebelled against Capt. Amarinder Singh, saying the latter had not fulfilled the party’s 2017 election promises.
The Congress’ decision of choosing Mr. Channi is being seen as an attempt to win over the Dalit votes ahead of the Assembly polls due in early 2022. In Punjab, which has the highest percentage of Dalit population among States — close to 32% — political parties have been making all out efforts to garner their support. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has already announced that if voted to power, the deputy chief minister would be from the Dalit community.
Mr. Channi’s announcement came after AICC-appointed observers Harish Chaudhary and Ajay Maken, and Punjab affairs incharge Harish Rawat held hectic meetings in Chandigarh with party leaders and collected feedback from MLAs ahead of short-listing the name of CLP leader.
During the meeting, the name of senior Congress leader Sukhjinder Randhawa was at the forefront. However, it has been learnt that Mr. Sidhu strongly batted for Mr. Channi. Later, before announcing the decision, senior leaders Ambika Soni, K.C. Venugopal held a meeting with Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi at the latter’s residence.
Following Mr. Rawat’s announcement, Mr Gandhi tweeted: “Congratulations to Shri Charanjit Singh Channi Ji for the new responsibility. We must continue to fulfil the promises made to the people of Punjab. Their trust is of paramount importance.”
Some political observers feel that while the move of selecting a Dalit leader would politically help the Congress party in the upcoming Assembly polls, it appears to be a temporary arrangement.
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“The decision would benefit the Congress as it will help to garner support in Dalit community. But eventually it’s a stop-gap arrangement and the face of the campaign for 2022 polls would be Navjot Singh Sidhu. While the opposition parties such as Akali Dal has announced to appoint of deputy Chief Minister on assuming power, but here the Congress has taken a bold step to declare a Dalit as the Chief Minister, which will give the party an edge,” said Ashutosh Kumar, professor with political science department of Punjab University.
The announcement came a day after the Congress high command forced the resignation of Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh ahead of a Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting convened by the AICC on September 18. The final decision of the new chief minister was left to the party president Sonia Gandhi.
(With input from PTI)