Hours before a function related to his son’s wedding, Charanjit Singh Channi accompanied senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to Lakhimpur Kheri. He returned to Chandigarh hours before the wedding, and a few hours to go for the reception function, was at his office chairing a Cabinet meeting. Later the same day, he joined PPCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu’s march to Lakhimpur Kheri.
Welcome to a typical day in the life of Channi, who has set a blistering pace for himself as he completes a month in office on Wednesday, holding meetings, attending to party workers, crisscrossing the state, breaking into impromptu bhangras, and working way past the midnight hour. The contrast couldn’t be more stark given the virtual invisibility of his predecessor Amarinder Singh, which was one of the reasons the veteran was eased out of the CM’s post.
On Sunday, Channi’s meeting with a recalcitrant Sidhu lasted five hours, stretching to 1.15 am. The next morning at 10, Channi was at the Civil Secretariat for a Cabinet meeting. Later, he addressed the media, and in the evening, was off to Chamkaur Sahib to tend to his constituency.
“It is difficult to keep pace with him. He can do without sleep for hours. He works in the Secretariat till late, then goes home and keeps calling till 2:30 am with queries. By 5 am, he is again up working on files,” a government functionary said, adding that several officials are grumbling about not getting enough sleep.
The CM reportedly plans to tour the state extensively ahead of the coming polls, and has already done a round of the Majha, Doaba and Malwa regions.
A leader said Channi was required to hit the ground running, and has proved up to the task. “Amarinder was a political heavy weight, he had everything going for him. His government got at least a week between the results and the swearing-in ceremony, and they used the time to line up announcements. Channi has been pulled in all directions since taking over, including doing rounds of Delhi to meet the high command, and handling Sidhu,” the leader said, adding that it in the midst of all this, the CM has managed to work out waiver of power arrears for the poor and started the process of property rights for residents living within the lal dora area.
At his first press conference, Channi had stressed that he would be an accessible CM, in what was seen as a dig at Amarinder, adding that he kept his bedding in his car “to save time”. He had also returned the elaborate security paraphernalia that surrounded Amarinder as CM.
Given how MLAs had complained about Amarinder remaining confined to his farmhouse, Congress legislator Darshan Brar said Channi was a pleasant surprise. “Look at the way the CMO is flooded with people now. It seems the entire Congress is there. I have never seen so many people in that place.”
There is appreciation in the ranks about how he connected with youth during a job fair at Kapurthala — telling them he was like their “vadda bhra (elder brother)”; how he hugged one of the members of the police band during a guard of honour; the viral video of MLAs crowding Channi’s car, leaving little space for the CM himself; and his son’s wedding at a gurdwara where he sat on the floor for the langar.
Akali leader Sukhbir Singh Badal, however, called all these empty “photo-ops”. “They (the Congress government) have no money, or they would have made these announcements earlier… They know that in two months there will be a code of conduct, and the next government will have to pay (for their announcements).”
Leader of Opposition Harpal Cheema of AAP said Channi should clarify what he was going to do about the sacrilege issue and unemployment. “He has just been running helter-skelter. What does this race means when nothing is being done on the ground? The sand mafia is operating as earlier. Other mafias are also having a field day.”
Apart from the hot-button sacrilege issue, the controversial power purchase agreements and the drug racket, which Amarinder was accused of failing to tackle, Channi also has to keep an eye on Sidhu and other disgruntled elements in the Congress in the coming days.
By the time polls come around, there might be another feather in Channi’s cap. He is in the process of writing a PhD thesis on the Congess, its internal organisation, and its performance during the UPA and Modi regimes. Aides say he is confident of meeting the December deadline.
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