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Channi in the Saddle After Congress Declares Punjab CM Face but Sidhu Says He is No ‘Exhibitory Horse’

By: Swati Bhan

News18.com

Last Updated: February 06, 2022, 19:09 IST

Punjab Congress leaders Charanjit Singh Channi and Navjot Singh Sidhu at an election rally in Ludhiana, Punjab, on Sunday. (PTI Photo)

Punjab Congress leaders Charanjit Singh Channi and Navjot Singh Sidhu at an election rally in Ludhiana, Punjab, on Sunday. (PTI Photo)

Senior leaders say they hope the party can now focus on elections. But a section in the Congress fears sidelining of Sidhu could result in backlash and could antagonise Jat-Sikh voters.

“A man from a poor family has been chosen,” as he announced the Congress’s chief ministerial face for the upcoming Punjab elections at a virtual rally in politically significant Malwa region, Rahul Gandhi’s emphasis on Charanjit Singh Channi’s background indicated that the party was not only willing to take the risk of breaking away from the past political tradition but has its caste matrix worked out.

His announcement ended days of speculations over the party’s CM candidate for the high-octane Punjab polls, pushing Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Navjot Singh Sidhu out of the race. The Congress seems to have gone by the popular demand of party leaders and workers, and, at the same time, cash in on the Dalit-Sikh vote bank to woo nearly 32% of the Scheduled Caste population of Punjab.

After today’s announcement, there were celebrations across the state, particularly, in Chamkaur Sahib, but the mood seemed subdued outside Sidhu’s residence in Amritsar. Senior leaders say they hope with the issue of “who is the CM face” now settled, the party can focus on the elections ahead. But a section of the party fears sidelining of Sidhu could result in backlash and could antagonise the Jat-Sikh voters.

As soon as Rahul Gandhi made the announcement, both Sidhu and Channi walked up to him and shook hands what many believe made for good optics. But when Sidhu reiterated yet again in his address that he should not be relegated to being just a “darshini ghoda” (exhibitory horse), party leaders were reminded that the road up ahead could not be a smooth one.

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During their address both Channi and Sidhu assured to Rahul to work towards taking the party back to power in the state. “It’s a big fight, which he cannot fight alone. I will only be a medium and require help and support from the party and people to emerge victorious from this battle,” said Channi after Rahul Gandhi’s announcement.

The Congress seems to have taken a strategic risk by announcing the CM face. Despite raids by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in which Channi’s nephew was arrested, Congress surveys have indicated that Channi would utilise the ED action to his advantage by playing out the “victimhood” card. How Channi and the Congress could try to use it to their advantage was clear when the former even lamented about it at the event.

“The ED’s action was a fallout of my refusal to use force against farmers who blocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s passage in Punjab on January 5,” Channi announced.

All eyes are now on Sidhu, who, even though, has publicly maintained that he would abide by the party high command’s decision, but he would have felt a major letdown today. “He rejected even the deputy CM’s post under Captain (Amarinder Singh) as he was clear about his CM’s ambition. Now, out of the race, he surely would be disappointed,” commented a leader.

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first published:February 06, 2022, 19:02 IST
last updated:February 06, 2022, 19:09 IST