Punjab 2021: State gets first Dalit CM, farmers return home victorious after repeal of laws

Congress veteran Amarinder Singh was ousted as chief minister by the party's central leadership, which sprung a surprise by picking Charanjit Singh Channi, who became the state's first Dalit CM.

Published: 31st December 2021 03:25 PM  |   Last Updated: 31st December 2021 03:25 PM   |  A+A-

Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and CM Charanjit Singh Channi

Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and CM Charanjit Singh Channi. (File Photo| Parveen Negi, EPS)


CHANDIGARH: A bitter tussle between Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu in the state unit of the ruling Congress led to dramatic results in 2021, a year that also saw the jubilant return of Punjabi farmers after months of protest at Delhi's borders against the Centre's agri laws.

Congress veteran Amarinder Singh was ousted as chief minister by the party's central leadership, which sprung a surprise by picking Charanjit Singh Channi, who became the state's first Dalit CM.

Sidhu was earlier appointed the party's state unit president, but he seems to want more.

Amarinder Singh's exit from the Congress and the farmers' year-long agitation led to the emergence of new political parties and alliances, setting the scene for multi-cornered contests in the Assembly polls that are now just weeks away.

In December, two men were lynched by people who accused them of trying to commit sacrilege at gurdwaras.

In the Kapurthala case, police found that there was actually no desecration bid and have charged the gurdwara manager for murder.

In Amritsar's Golden Temple where a man jumped over the railings of the sanctum sanctorum, police lodged an FIR for the alleged sacrilege attempt.

But there is no word yet on any case in connection with the murder that followed.

At Delhi's Singhu border in October, another man was similarly lynched by a group of Nihangs camping at the farmers' protest site over an alleged desecration of a sacred text.

A bomb went off in Ludhiana's court complex killing a former policeman, who was allegedly trying to assemble it and injuring six others.

At least initially, politicians linked the blast to the two alleged desecration bids only days earlier and called it an attempt to destabilise the state.

Sacrilege has been an emotive issue in Punjab and a past case provided much ammunition to Sidhu in his no-holds-fight against Amarinder Singh.

He accused Singh of failing to bring to justice those involved in the 2015 desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in Faridkot and the subsequent police firing on protesters that killed two people.

This year, the Punjab and Haryana high court quashed a special investigation team's report into the firing.

Sidhu, who had quit Amarinder Singh's cabinet and gone into a sulk in 2019 after being stripped of a key portfolio, targeted his former boss for months, saying he had not fulfilled the election promises made by their party in 2017.

Some cabinet ministers and MLAs rallied around him.

The ex-cricketer and the veteran politician pulled no punches as their fight escalated, and continuing with their barbs even after Sidhu seemed to have won the contest.

Sidhu termed Singh a "spent cartridge".

The elder politician found him to be "anti-national, dangerous, unstable and incompetent".

After another slanging match between Punjab politicians over Amarinder Singh's friendship with Pakistani journalist Aroosa Alam, Congress MP Manish Tewari said party leaders were squabbling like children, using language "even fishwives would not use".

"For the past five months, it is INC Punjab vs INC Punjab. Do we think that people of Punjab are not disgusted by this daily soap opera," he tweeted.

Amarinder Singh's fate was sealed in September when the high command called a meeting of the state's Congress Legislative Party, bypassing him though he was the CLP leader.

He resigned ahead of the meeting.

"I felt humiliated," he said.

Weeks later, Singh announced his own Punjab Lok Congress.

Despite the changes made by the party's central leadership, things in Punjab Congress are yet to settle down.

Whenever he spots an opportunity, Sidhu now targets the new CM appointed by his party.

He also "resigned" as the party's state unit president, demanding the replacement of the advocate general and the director general of police appointed by the new Channi government.

Both officials were eventually replaced.

Channi has been busy casting himself in a populist mould.

His government has already waived many pending power and water bills, reduced domestic electricity rates, made sand bought at quarries cheaper and lowered cable TV charges.

His is not a "Channi Sarkar", the CM has claimed, but a "changi sarkar" or good government.

The Channi government opposed the Centre's decision to increase the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force and piloted a resolution in the assembly that called it an "insult" to the state police.

In November, he led some members of his ministry to the Kartarpur gurdwara in Pakistan as soon as the visa-free corridor reopened after a gap of 20 months.

With Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party putting up a stiff challenge, the divided Congress will find the going tough in the assembly polls.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), now no longer with the Bharatiya Janata Party, has joined hands with the Bahujan Samaj Party, eyeing Dalit votes.

Amarinder Singh's new party has tied up with the BJP and the SAD (Sanyukt).

The farmers' unions too have entered the scene.

Twenty-two of them have announced a political front, the Samyukt Samaj Morcha, to fight the Punjab polls.

They were among the 32 farmer organisations from Punjab that formed part of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, camping at Delhi's border for a year to compel the Centre into withdrawing three contentious laws.

Days earlier, Haryana Bhartiya Kisan Union president Gurnam Singh Chaduni floated his own Sanyukt Sangharsh Party, also to contest in Punjab.


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