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Deputy CM OP Soni: Hindu face, Capt loyalist, took on Sidhu in LS polls

By appointing him as one of the two deputies to Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, the Congress has tried to maintain the cast balance ahead of the 2022 assembly election. While Channi is a Dalit, Soni is a Hindu face.

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Amritsar |
Updated: September 20, 2021 6:56:30 pm
Newly sworn-in Punjab Deputy Chief Minister O P Soni (left).

One of the senior-most leaders in Congress, Om Parkash Soni, who Monday took oath as one of two deputy chief ministers, is considered a loyalist of former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh. Soni, who has not lost any Assembly election since his maiden win from Amritsar West in 1997, currently represents Amritsar Central in the Vidhan Sabha.

By appointing him as one of the two deputies to Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, the Congress has tried to maintain the cast balance ahead of the 2022 assembly election. While Channi is a Dalit, Soni is a Hindu face. The other deputy CM, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, is a Jat Sikh. Channi is from politically influential Malwa region of state while Randhawa and Soni are from the Majha region.

Soni had started his political career from Amritsar West in 1997 entering the Punjab Vidhan Sabha as an Independent MLA. He was re-elected in 2002. In 2007, he contested from the same seat as Congress candidate and won. He shifted to Amritsar Central in 2012 after the Amritsar Seat was reserved for Scheduled Caste and won again. He repeated the feat in 2017 securing a thumping win over nearest rival, BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh, by a margin of 21,116 votes.

It had come as a surprise to many when, despite his fifth consecutive win, Soni couldn’t find a place in the Capt Amarinder Singh Cabinet. Soni, who is considered to be very close to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had to wait for one more year before he was inducted in Amarinder’s council of minister in April 2018 and allotted the education portfolio.

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Only a year later, after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Amarinder changed Soni’s portfolio during a Cabinet reshuffle. He was allotted the medical education, a portfolio that Soni never approved of. He protested too and took charge of the new department only after two weeks. At that time, he had gone on record blaming senior bureaucrats for the reshuffle.

While he will now be working with Navjot Singh Sidhu in latter’s capacity as state Congress president, Soni had taken the cricketer-turned-politician head on in 2009 parliamentary elections from Amritsar and lost by a slim margin of 6,858 votes. It was the only election that Soni ever lost and later challenged the result in Punjab and Haryana High Court. He also had simultaneously filed a defamation case in an Amritsar court against Sidhu for his alleged remarks that Soni was embroiled in drug peddling.

Soni withdrew the cases against Sidhu in 2017 days after the later joined the Congress and the party leadership intervened.

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Throughout the internal tussle in Congress between Amarinder and Sidhu, Soni was seen standing with the the former. He had even refused to come to Amritsar when Sidhu was visiting the Golden Temple before taking charge as the Punjab Congress chief.

In 2016, Soni was one of the 42 Congress MLAs who had submitted their resignation in protest against a Supreme Court judgment ruling Punjab’s termination of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) water canal as unconstitutional. Amarinder, who was then the Punjab Congress chief, had resigned from the Lok Sabha seat in protest.

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First published on: 20-09-2021 at 01:51:21 pm

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