The Congress has sprung a surprise in Punjab, picking Charanjit Singh Channi to succeed Captain Amarinder Singh as Punjab Chief Minister, contrary to initial speculation that the top job may go to Navjot Singh Sidhu.
The announcement of Channi’s elevation was made by Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat on Sunday evening, after a two-day marathon huddle. The fact that parleys had spilled over to Sunday following Amarinder Singh’s resignation on Saturday evening had made it clear that Sidhu may not get a call-up despite his proximity to the Gandhi family.
A Congress leader, however, cautions against underestimating Sidhu’s victory in the Punjab slugfest. Speaking to News18 earlier on Sunday, the leader, on condition of anonymity, said that even if Sidhu does not become CM immediately, he will continue to call the shots as Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief ahead of elections next year.
“It’s clear now who will be the boss. It’s a fact that no matter who the CM is, it will be the former cricketer who will be projected as Man of the Match,” the leader, a close aide of Sidhu, told News18.
For Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, Sidhu seems like a natural choice to set the house in order ahead of 2022 polls. His brash style is what attracted them in the first place. At a time when Amarinder was seen as being too soft on the Akalis, Sidhu’s pointed attack on the Badals and Bikram Singh Majithia over the alleged drug racket pumped up the Congress tempo.
It’s likely that with the Captain gone, the Congress government may pursue criminal action against Akalis and Majithia more aggressively in the drugs case. Sources say the new government may even make big arrests at the outset to distinguish itself from the Amarinder regime.
At the Punjab Congress helm, Sidhu’s immediate challenge will be to fulfil the Congress’ poll promise barely months before fresh elections. The party lost the first-mover advantage on free electricity to AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal recently. Sources say the Punjab Congress under Sidhu will include more sops in its poll promises as damage control.
The former cricketer’s biggest and long-running challenge will, however, be to keep the flock together. Sidhu cannot make the mistake of assuming the support of MLAs who were opposed to Amarinder Singh. The leader understand this very well and on the instruction of Gandhi siblings recently travelled across the state reaching out to party MLAs. This gesture may reap rewards next year if the party returns to power with Sidhu as its CM face.