STATE OF PLAY Comment

From the shadows to the forefront

On September 20, 2021, Charanjit Singh Channi, 58, took oath as the Chief Minister of Punjab, becoming the first from the Scheduled Caste community to hold the top post in the State. Since then, there has been no looking back for the soft-spoken leader, who has been demonstrating his assertive leadership style within the Congress and in State politics.

Mr. Channi was among the Congress leaders in Punjab who revolted against the former Chief Minister, Captain (retired) Amarinder Singh. While he may not have expected then to succeed Mr. Singh as Chief Minister, Mr. Channi, who comes from rural Punjab with a humble background, has been working to establish himself as the leader of the common man after assuming office. He has danced with the youth to Bhangra beats, stepped out of his cavalcade to greet a newly wedded couple, and visited the families of the farmers who lost their lives during the agitation against the controversial farm laws. Through these and other attempts, he is trying to give the impression that he is accessible and approachable, unlike his predecessor.

Mr. Channi’s actions seem to be in consonance with his words. Initially, Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu gave the impression that Mr. Channi could be a mere rubber stamp. But the Chief Minister has established himself as a confident and composed leader. While Mr. Sidhu has relentlessly been bashing his own government in public on various issues – be it the non-delivery of justice in the 2015 “sacrilege” incidents or the drugs menace – Mr. Channi has been unruffled, giving the impression of a mature leader in the making. While on the one hand, he has been dealing with the chaos in the party, on the other, in the run-up to the Assembly elections, Mr. Channi has been trying to overhaul the image of the government. To strike a chord with the people, he has been travelling and meeting people across the State, especially the downtrodden sections, besides making pro-poor announcements, even as the Opposition parties allege that his promises are not being implemented.

Mr. Channi’s response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s security breach incident in Punjab’s Ferozepur on January 5 was an indicator of his increasing self-belief. He expressed ‘regret’ over the episode, while also asserting that there was no security lapse as there was no threat at all to the Prime Minister’s security. He said that he himself would take a bullet if ever the Prime Minister’s life was under threat. Countering the ‘national security in danger’ narrative being created by the BJP, Mr. Channi was quick to convey the message to his opponents that for the people of Punjab, the country always stood first and their nationalism is unquestionable. He also seized the opportunity to take political mileage out of the ‘protesters’ blocking the road of the Prime Minister’s convoy by categorically stating that he could not have used ‘bullets’ or ‘lathis’ on the people of Punjab. He then blamed the BJP for indulging in petty politics.

After creating a mess in Punjab by unceremoniously booting out Mr. Singh, the Congress is now fighting to retain its government. The contest is open with the Aam Aadmi Party trying to garner popular support with its ‘Delhi model’ and Mr. Singh stitching an alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (Sanyukt) and the BJP. But Mr. Channi is now leading from the front to galvanise support and votes from all quarters. To ensure that his elevation does not annoy other communities, which have been dominant in State politics for years, Mr. Channi in his public interactions is hardly seen projecting himself as a ‘Dalit leader’. He prefers to present himself as a common man’s leader.

vikas.vasudeva@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | May 20, 2022 12:21:38 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/from-the-shadows-to-the-forefront/article38319752.ece