Punjab on Sunday got its first Dalit Chief Minister with Technical Education Minister Charanjit Singh Channi nominated as Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader on Sunday.
Channi (58) replaces Amarinder Singh, who had stepped down as CM on Saturday. A legislator from Chamkaur Sahib, Channi has been a CLP member and Leader of Opposition in the previous SAD-BJP government in the state.
Channi had been vocal in raising the Dalit issues in the state and had recently rebelled against Amarinder. He is considered close to AICC leader Rahul Gandhi and became the choice of the Congress high command for the post after two Jat Sikhs Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and PPCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu opposed the party’s move to appoint a Hindu leader Sunil Jakhar. His name was announced amid the fight for power among the Jat Sikh leaders.
The appointment of then CM remained a cliffhanger on Sunday with the high command not able to finalise a name till Sunday evening after a battle of Hindu vs Sikh face ensued in the Congress.
The party had to defer its CLP meet, which was to be reconvened at 11 am on Sunday to zero in on a name for the chief minister’s post. Party general secretary-in-charge Harish Rawat and two Central observers Ajay Maken and Harish Chaudhary held parleys with various leaders including two aspirants –PPCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and Cabinet Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa.
Randhawa, sources said, was opposed to Jakhar’s name on the plea that a non-Sikh should not be the CM of a Sikh majority state. He was heard out by the committee of observers. His name was however not finalised even though his supporters made a beeline to his house to congratulate him.
Later, an emissary of the high command visited Randhawa at his residence and conveyed to him that he should withdraw from the race of the next CM.
Sidhu, who also met the committee and held a long meeting is learnt to have impressed upon them that if a Jat Sikh has to be made the CM, then it has to be him. A discussion on the name of Cabinet Minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu as PPCC chief also took place in case Sidhu was to be made the CM, sources said. He is learnt to have suggested party MP Dr Amar Singh’s name as an alternative to him. Dr Amar Singh is also Sidhu’s advisor. However, after the meeting, a visibly upset Sidhu left the hotel premises where the meeting took place. He refused to speak to the media.
The frontrunners kept changing throughout the day with Rajya Sabha MP Ambika Soni topping the list on Sunday morning, after former PPCC chief Sunil Jakhar on Saturday.
Soni, however, told the media that she had declined the offer and that a Sikh should be made the CM as it was the party’s tradition in the reorganised Punjab.
The party decided on the final name even after taking opinion from MLAs about the CM of their choice. The observers called up several MLAs. Jakhar turned out to be the choice of maximum 41 MLAs, and 17 MLAs are learnt to have sought Randhawa and nine suggested MP Preneet Kaur’s name, sources said.