Rahul with Channi before the swearing-in.

Rahul with Channi before the swearing-in.

Dalit Sikh Channi takes oath as Punjab CM with Jat Sikh and Hindu deputies

Congress says Channi and Sidhu to lead in polls after differences surface

Agency Report | Chandigarh | 20 September, 2021 | 11:00 PM

Charanjit Singh Channi will be the first Dalit leader to head Punjab. With barely months to go for Assembly polls, Congress surprise CM pick assumes significance as Dalits constitute nearly 30 per cent of the state’s population. Channi took oath as 16th chief minister of Punjab. The swearing-in ceremony was held at Governor's house in Chandigarh, with former Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and other leaders in attendance. Channi, earlier, offered prayers at a Gurudwara in Rupnagar before his oath-taking ceremony. Just hours before the event, Congress leader Sunil Jakhar questioned Punjab Congress in-charge Harish Rawat's statement that the party will fight elections under Sidhu. "On the swearing-in day of Charnjit_channi as Chief Minister, Rawat's statement that “elections will be fought under Sidhu", is baffling. It’s likely to undermine CM’s authority but also negate the very ‘raison d’être’ of his selection for this position," Jakhar tweeted.

Newly-appointed Dalit-Sikh Chief Minister and Congress leader Charanjit Singh Channi took oath of office along with his two deputies — one a Jat Sikh and another belonging to the Hindu community — at a simple ceremony here in the Punjab capital that was delayed for 20 minutes owing to late arrival of party leader Rahul Gandhi.

Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and O.P. Soni, both ministers in previous Council of Ministers led by Amarinder Singh, took oath for the posts of the Deputy Chief Ministers.

Rahul Gandhi reached the venue when the oath-taking ceremony was almost over. Former Amarinder Singh was conspicuously absent from the ceremony.

Amarinder Singh on Sunday greeted his 58-year-old successor, by saying, “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.”

Ahead of his oath-taking ceremony, the chief minister-designate on Monday morning paid obeisance at Gurdwara Katalgarh Sahib at Chamkaur Sahib, his home constituency.

Channi was accompanied by his family.

Three-time legislator from the Chamkaur Sahib assembly constituency in Rupnagar district, Channi had joined the Congress in 2012 and was holding the portfolios of Technical Education, Industrial Training, Employment Generation and Tourism and Cultural Affairs in the outgoing cabinet.

The political tussle within the party has not ended with the announcement of Channi, the first Dalit Chief Minister of Punjab.

Former state party President Sunil Jakhar, who was in the race for the chief ministership, questioned the statement of Rawat for his state regarding party President Navjot Singh Sidhu.

“On the swearing-in day of Sh @Charnjit_channi as Chief Minister, Mr Rawat’s statement that “elections will be fought under Sidhu”, is baffling. It’s likely to undermine CM’s authority but also negate the very ‘raison d’etre’ of his selection for this position,” he tweeted.

Amarinder Singh on Saturday resigned from his post as the Chief Minister after months of political tussle, saying he stepped down as he felt ‘humiliated’.

At the same time, he said that the “future politics option is always there and I will use that option”.

Amarinder Singh also termed Sidhu as a ‘disaster’ who would not be acceptable to him as his successor.

The Congress has contradicted Harish Rawat, the Punjab in-charge, on the issue of leadership and said elections will be fought under both the chief minister and the state party president.

AICC general Secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala said, “Media please do not spread confusion and stop attack on the Dalit chief minister. Charanjeet Channi will be our face as Chief Minister and Sidhu as State President.”

The Congress had to begin damage control on the day of the swearing in of the new Chief Minister in Punjab as differences arose over the statement of Harish Rawat who said that the next election will be fought under Navjot Singh Sidhu. Former state party president Sunil Jakhar who missed the bus due to the consideration of a Sikh Chief Minister has criticized him.

“On the swearing-in day of Sh @Charnjit_channi as Chief Minister, Mr Rawats’s statement that “elections will be fought under Sidhu, is baffling. It’s likely to undermine CM’s authority but also negate the very ‘raison d’etre’ of his selection for this position.” said Jakhar in a tweet.

Sources say that after cutting the “Gordian knot” of Amarinder Singh, the Congress will checkmate Sidhu also in a similar way as his statements have not been doing any good to the party. Congress leaders say that obviously Channi, the new chief minister, will have the main role in the elections.

The Punjab saga may have ended in the eyes of the Congress leadership, but state leaders will assert themselves till the elections and the path for Sidhu will not be smooth. In the legislative party meet Sidhu was the last choice amongst the MLAs while Jakhar and Randhawa had majority support. Randhawa could not make it as Sidhu was adamant on the appointment of a Jat Sikh as the CM and had objections to Jakhar.

Though senior Congress leader Ambika Soni refused to become Chief Minister and was backing Randhawa, amid all this Channi came as a surprise and a compromise candidate.
Channi said his government is of Aam Aadmi (the common man), honest, free from sand mafias and a representative of the poor as he himself pulled a rickshaw in his childhood.

Also he appealed to the Centre to revoke the three farm laws and to the agitating state employees to join work as he would be going to redress their grievances shortly.

In his maiden media interaction after taking the oath of office here, Channi, 58, who got emotional many a time with voice choked with emotions, said the Congress has given an opportunity to a common man who started his career as a humble party worker.

“The Gandhis, Harish Rawat and Navjot Sidhu made an Aam Aadmi a CM (Chief Minister). I come from a family who had a house made of mud and straws. I am a representative of a poor man, be it a poor farmer or a labourer. I myself pulled a rickshaw. My father had a tent house business and I used to supply chairs (on a rickshaw),” the Chief Minister, who was flanked by Sidhu, Rawat and his Deputy Chief Ministers — Sukhjinder Randhawa and O.P. Soni, said.

Expressing solidarity with the farmers and with the poor, Channi said: “I won’t let any harm come to the farmers. We will make a decision on sand mafia today itself. No power connection of a poor man will be disconnected for pending bills.”

“We have to strengthen Punjab. It is the state of farmers. I appeal to the Centre to withdraw the farm laws. I will sever my head but I won’t let any harm come to the farmers.”

“Those involved in mafia should not try to approach me. We are going to bring a policy to end sand mafia in the very first Cabinet meeting today.”

He said his government would soon announce the waiver of water bill and announcement on lowering electricity rates.

Praising his predecessor, Channi, who was sworn in as 16th chief minister of the state, said Captain Amarinder Singh did a lot of good work for the people of Punjab. “We will take forward his work and will complete the party’s 18-point agenda on fulfilling promises.”

Without mincing words, the three-time legislator Channi said the party is supreme. “The Chief Minister is not supreme. The Congress ideology will be followed. We will all be united.”

State party president Sidhu, who sitting beside the Chief Minister, was patting his hand time and again, extending support and showing affection. (IANS)