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Scheduled Caste leaders thank Rahul Gandhi for naming Channi as Punjab CM

Rahul Gandhi greets new Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi after the latter takes the oath of office. File | Photo Credit: PTI
Special Correspondent New Delhi: 24 September 2021 21:24 IST
Updated: 24 September 2021 21:24 IST

The meeting is significant in terms of political messaging

Former Congress party president Rahul Gandhi on Friday met a group of Scheduled Caste (SC) leaders, who had come to thank him for appointing the first SC Chief Minister in Punjab.

The meeting is significant in terms of political messaging amid allegations from political rivals that the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as the Chief Minister had been done only with an eye on the Assembly elections.

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Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati has called Mr. Channi’s appointment an “election stunt”; the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Amit Malviya tweeted that the newly appointed Chief Minister was “holding the seat for a Gandhi family loyalist”, referring to Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.

On September 20, Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, though, had clarified that the party will go to polls with both Mr. Channi and Mr. Sidhu as its face.

Many in the Congress have privately argued that Mr. Channi’s appointment is “a well thought out strategy” to keep a check on Mr. Sidhu’s ambitions.

Mr. Gandhi posted on social media after his meeting with the SC leaders on Friday: “Had an interesting discussion with leaders from the Dalit community this morning. Come rain or shine, we will stay true to our resolve for equal opportunities for all sections of the society. Jai Hind!”

The meeting was also attended by party general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal and former Lok Sabha MP Udit Raj.

Interestingly, former Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Sunil Jakhar, a frontrunner to replace Captain (Retd.) Amarinder Singh, who lost out because of objections from certain sections of the party, including Mr. Sidhu’s supporters, lauded Mr. Gandhi for appointing a member of the SC community as Punjab’s CM.

“What Rahul Gandhi has done by choosing Charanjeet Channi as chief minister is that he has broken the barely perceptible ‘glass ceiling’,” Mr. Jakhar said in a statement, adding,“This bold decision, though very much rooted in the ethos of Sikhism, is nevertheless a watershed moment not only for the polity but also for the social fabric of the state.”

The former PCC chief, who met Mr. Gandhi earlier this week, also had a word of caution for his colleagues in Punjab. Arguing that “Punjabiat is being put to test once again as divisive forces are trying to to fragment the society”, Mr. Jakhar said the new Congress dispensation will be keenly watched for its ability to maintain amity and brotherhood among different sections.

Meanwhile, Mr. Channi arrived in Delhi for the third time in as many days to give final shape to his Cabinet. He is learnt to have had a marathon meeting with Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Venugopal, and Congress in-charge for Punjab, Harish Rawat.

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