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Cong plays Dalit card in Punjab

Monday, 20 September 2021 | PNS | New Delhi

Names Channi as CM to secure Sikh, Dalit votes

Eyeing Assembly elections in the crucial States of Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the next few months, the Congress on Sunday played a “surprise” Dalit card by naming Charanjit Singh Channi as the next Punjab Chief Minister.

Channi, the outgoing Technical Education Minister, is also one of those leaders who had rebelled against the party’s old warhorse Captain Amarinder Singh.

Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi congratulated Channi after he was picked as the next Punjab Chief Minister, and said the party must continue to fulfil the promises made to the people of the State. Rahul said “history had been created by the party after choosing a Dalit face” to head the Congress Government in Punjab.

The entire Congress leadership including party chief Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and his sister Priyanka Gandhi besides seniors like Harish Rawat, Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary, Pawan Bansal, Ajay Maken and Randeep Surjewala, were involved in setting the Punjab unit in order.

Channi, 58, a three-time MLA from Rupnagar’s Chamkaur Sahib will be sworn in as Punjab’s first Dalit Chief Minister on Monday. His elevation is significant given the fact that Dalits form around 31 per cent of Punjab’s population. The Dalit population is in the same range in neighbouring States of UP and Uttarakhand.

Party sources said Channi’s deputies may be from the Sikh and Hindu communities.

“The poll calculus behind the choice of Channi appears simple. The Akali Dal (earlier in power with the BJP) has joined hands with Mayawati’s BSP to tap the Dalit vote, hence the Congress anticipated that Channi, who is a Dalit as well as a Sikh, will counter all other political combinations brewing in the State,” they said.

Political leaders, however, said that the Congress’ choice for Chief Minister may trigger criticism, given that Channi was accused of sexual harassment by a woman IAS officer. Channi allegedly sent an inappropriate text in 2018, but the officer never filed a complaint. The claim resurfaced in May after the State’s Women’s Commission sent a notice asking for the State Government’s response.

News of Channi’s appointment came just a few hours after sources said another outgoing Minister – Sukhjinder Randhawa – would be named to the top post. Randhawa’s name met with some doubts and the Congress high command – keen to ensure the new Chief Minister has maximum support – switched tack.

“I am happy with the high command’s decision. I want to thank all MLAs who supported me. Channi is my brother,” Randhawa said after Channi was announced as the Chief Minister.

The early day meeting of the legislature party was postponed after Rajya Sabha MP Ambika Soni – believed to be the party’s first choice for the Chief Minister’s post – declined the offer. Soni said “no” at a late-night meeting with Rahul. She stressed on the “ramifications” of a non-Sikh Chief Minister, particularly with an election due.

Amarinder had announced that he would oppose it tooth and nail if the party named Sidhu as the Chief Minister. He was the first to convey his best wishes to his successor.

“My best wishes to Charanjit Singh Channi. I hope he’s able to keep the border State of Punjab safe and protect our people from the growing security threat from across the border,” Singh said in the message.

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