CHANDIGARH: Ending intense speculation on Capt Amarinder Singh’s successor a day after he was forced to resign, Charanjit Singh Channi (48), a member of the Scheduled Caste community, was on Sunday elected the Punjab Congress Legislative Party leader. He will take oath of office and secrecy as chief minister at 11 am on Monday.
He is a comparative political lightweight and will hold office for just a few months before the state goes to polls early next year, one reason why Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu was happy with the choice. Earlier in the day, AICC observers had approved a proposal to elevate Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa as chief minister, but Sidhu spiked it, as the former was seen as a heavyweight who could overshadow him in the run up to the Assembly elections.
Channi, the technical education minister in the outgoing ministry, was the dark horse in the race. He will be the first SC (Ramdasia Sikh) leader ever to become the chief minister of the state that has already had 15 CMs. A three-time MLA from the Chamkaur Sahib constituency, he was Leader of Opposition from 2015 to 2016. His appointment in the Jat-dominated Punjab politics would change the dynamics in the run-up to the Assembly elections, as SCs have 32% vote share in the state.
Sources said the decision to appoint an SC as the CLP leader came after hours of deliberations on the best possible combination to represent all communities, castes and regions in the state. Channi was among the four cabinet ministers and several Congress legislators who had raised a banner of revolt against Amarinder Singh saying they do not have faith in him as he has not fulfilled promises made before the 2017 Assembly polls.
He had then said that several ministers and MLAs have expressed concern over the unfulfilled promises, including delay in justice in the sacrilege case and the subsequent police firing in 2015, scrapping power purchase agreements and arrest of the big fish involved in drug mafia. Flanked by Sidhu and AICC Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat outside Raj Bhavan after meeting Governor Banwarilal Purohit to stake his claim to lead the government, Channi said, “The oath-taking ceremony will take place at 11 am on Monday.”
Amarinder Singh said he hopes that Channi is able to 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.