The Congress on Sunday picked Charanjit Singh Channi as the next chief minister of Punjab, making him the first Dailt to hold the post in the state, a day after Amarinder Singh resigned following a bitter power tussle in the party. Sukhjinder Randhawa, who was the frontrunner for the post just a few hours before Channi’s appointment, was given the post of Deputy chief minister along with Brahm Mohindra, AICC Treasurer Pawan Kumar Bansal tweeted.
Channi, who met Governor Banwarilal Purohit to stake his claim to the top job in the poll-bound state soon after being elected as the leader of the Congress Legislature Party, will be sworn in on Monday morning at 11 am. His deputy chief ministers will take oath beside him. A decision on the new cabinet will be taken later.
Senior Congress leader Harish Rawat on Sunday said the party will also try to bring Captain Amarinder Singh on board and hoped that the decision to appoint a Dalit Chief Minister - a first in Punjab- will help the grand-old party in other poll-bound states.
“I am proud to be part of the process of making the first Dalit CM for the state. We will try to bring Captain Amarinder Singh on board. There will be two Deputy Chief Ministers. Only the Chief Minister will take oath tomorrow and the cabinet will take it later. The decision on making Dalit a CM should help us in other poll-bound states. The decision for the face for upcoming polls will be taken later," Rawat said.
The party settled on Channi after a flurry of consultations through the day, following the abrupt cancellation of an 11 am meeting of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP). Several names did the rounds over the next several hours and minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa appeared to be the clear frontrunner for a while. Congress veteran Ambika Soni also told reporters in Delhi that she was offered the post but declined.
Channi’s elevation, barely five months before Assembly polls, assumes significance as Punjab has nearly 32 per cent Dalit population. The BJP had earlier announced that if voted to power in Punjab, it will make a Dalit the chief minister, while the SAD, which is fighting the coming polls in alliance with the BSP, had said that its Deputy Chief Minister would be from the Dalit community.
Channi, who is believed to have got strong backing from state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, told reporters after meeting the governor that he was elected the CLP leader unanimously. Channi is a three-time legislator from the Chamkaur Sahib assembly constituency in the Rupnagar district.
He was holding the portfolio of Technical Education, Industrial Training, Employment Generation, Tourism, and Cultural Affairs in the outgoing Amarinder Singh-led cabinet. Amarinder Singh said he hopes that Channi can keep “the border state of Punjab safe".
“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," he said. Channi and three other ministers — Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, and Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria — had joined the Sidhu camp amid an internal rift in the state unit and targeted Amarinder Singh over unfulfilled poll promises.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also congratulated Channi and said, “We must continue to fulfill the promises made to the people of Punjab. Their trust is of paramount importance."
The 79-year-old Amarinder Singh, one of the Congress’ powerful regional satraps, had put in his papers after speaking to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and shortly before a crucial meeting of the CLP in Chandigarh on Saturday evening. He had later launched a no-holds-barred attack against Navjot Singh Sidhu, describing his bete noire, a cricketer-turned-politician, as a “total disaster".
(with inputs from PTI)