Lawyer, management graduate, a strong voice for Dalits — Charanjit Singh Channi is a man of many parts.
Channi, who started out as a student leader, has risen through the ranks to be Punjab’s chief minister designate, and believes his strength lies in his connect with the masses.
Long before the revolt against Captain Amarinder Singh began to brew among Congress MLAs, Channi, who hails from the Ramdasia community, had been seeking a greater representation of Dalits in the Cabinet, given their large numbers in the party.
After the revolt against Amarinder gathered momentum this April, Channi became an active participant. Last fortnight, he was among the four ministers who went to meet the Congress’s Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat in Dehradun. But unlike the others, he chose to be present at the virtual meeting of the Cabinet a day later, and even thanked the chief minister for taking steps that benefitted Scheduled Caste students.
While this triggered speculation that he may be taking a step back, Channi continued to rally support against Amarinder. He was a signatory to the letter that called for a meeting of the Congress legislature party that precipitated Amarinder’s exit.
Ironically, it was Amarinder who had paved the way for Channi’s return to the party in December 2010, three years after he had rebelled against the Congress nominee for the Chamkaur Sahib seat in the Assembly elections of 2007.
Channi fought and won the seat as an Independent, and went on to become an associate member of the Shiromani Akali Dal in the Assembly. He was considered close to PPP’s Manpreet Badal, a minister in the Amarinder cabinet.
After his return to the Congress, Channi reportedly made efforts to get in touch with Rahul Gandhi through senior Congress leader CP Joshi.
For a long time, Channi minded his own business, taking care not to get mired in the party infighting. He stayed neutral when Amarinder fought to oust Partap Singh Bajwa from the post of PPCC chief in 2015.
It is perhaps due to his non-aligned stance that he was made Leader of Opposition from 2015 to 2016 during the SAD-BJP regime.
Channi’s present tenure as a minister saw controversy after a woman IAS officer accused him of sending her an “inappropriate” text message in October 2018. Amarinder later confirmed the development by saying the minister had apologised, and the matter had been sorted out.
The state women panel chairperson Manisha Gulati had refused to take suo motu cognizance of newspaper reports on the alleged incident, saying that neither the commission nor the police had received any complaint.
But later, when Channi rebelled against Amarinder, the government tried to reopen the case against him in May this year. Gulati threatened to go on a hunger strike if the government failed to apprise her within a week of its stand on the alleged “inappropriate text” message. She claimed she had taken up the over two-year-old matter after some IAS officers asked her about its status, and accused her of backing the minister.
Gulati also said she had written to Chief Secretary Vini Mahajan, seeking the government’s action taken report. But once again, the matter died down after Amarinder intervened.
Earlier, soon after taking over as a minister in 2017, Channi ran foul of the UT administration when he changed the entrance to his government-provided house due to astrological considerations.
As Minister for Technical Educational and Industrial Training, he was known to often drive his car himself, and to stop at toll booths to pay. On Sunday, he arrived at Punjab Bhawan riding pillion on a motorcycle that was driven by Sunil Jakhar, the former PPCC chief who had been considered frontrunner for the job until Saturday.
Channi had his first brush with politics when he was elected president of the students’ union of Khalsa Senior Secondary School, Kharar. He continued to dabble in student politics when he enrolled for graduation at Sri Guru Gobind Singh College, Chandigarh, where he was elected general secretary of the students’ union.
Channi is a trained lawyer with two postgraduate degrees, one in business administration and the other in political science.
It was during his stint as a councillor that he graduated in law from Panjab University. When he was first elected a legislator from Chamkaur Sahib, he pursued an MBA from Punjab Technical University.
While serving as leader of the CLP in 2016, Channi completed his post-graduation in political science from PU. “I study for the love of education, not qualification,” he says. He now wants to do a PhD on the Indian National Congress.
Channi’s wife Kamaljeet is a doctor, and the couple has two children. His elder son Navjeet Singh, a graduate from PEC University of Technology, is now studying law.
(With inputs from Kanchan Vasdev)