The faction-ridden Punjab Congress delivered a huge surprise when it chose Charanjit Singh Channi, 58, the minister of technical educational and industrial training, to be the next chief minister of Punjab.
- Channi will also be the first Dalit CM of a state where this post had become the monopoly of Jat Sikhs.
- The reasons why Channi was chosen by the Congress as Captain Amarinder Singh’s successor.
The Dalit factor
- At 32 percent, Punjab has one of the highest populations of Dalits in the country. Some researchers say this number is likely to go up to 38 percent once the results of the latest census are out.
- Although Jat Sikhs constitute only 25 per cent of the population, they have traditionally monopolised political power in the state.
- Although Congress has 20 Dalit MLAs –the 117-member assembly has 36 reserved constituencies–only three of them were included in the Cabinet.
- With a Jat Sikh as the PCC chief in Navjot Singh Sidhu and Dalit as the CM, the Congress party has made a long overdue reform, and has sought to distribute power more equitably.
A Counter to the Opposition
- Both Shiromani Akali Dal — which has joined hands with the Bahujan Samaj Party — and the Aam Aadmi Party, which is dominated by Dalit legislators, have been promising a Dalit deputy chief minister if they come to power.
- By choosing Channi, the Congress has managed to upstage the entire Opposition.
A Sikh face
- Channi is not only a Dalit but also a Sikh.
- Veteran Congress leader Ambica Soni had earlier shot down the proposal to choose former PPCC chief Sunil Kumar Jakhar as the Chief Minister, saying that a Punjabi suba (state) cannot have a Hindu CM.
- Opposing his candidature, jails and cooperation minister Sukhwinder Singh Randhawa, too, had said that he wouldn’t be able to face posterity if he allows a non-Sikh to become the CM, thus setting a precedent that can be difficult to overturn. But with Channi at the helm, there is no such fear.
Acceptability in the dissent-ridden party
- Channi, known for his political acumen, will be able to negotiate the warring camps in the party. He is close to the Majha brigade of three ministers that started marshalling the legislators against Capttion Amarinder Singh.
- He is also unlikely to rub Sidhu the wrong way. And it will also be difficult for Amarinder to target a Dalit face.
- A grassroots politician from a small hamlet of Kharar, who rose through the ranks after starting out as a student leader, Channi’s story resonates with the masses. Education is Channi’s forte. He has been upskilling himself all his life while pursuing a career in politics.