Dalit MLA Charanjit Singh Channi, 43, was Friday named Congress Legislative Party leader in Punjab — in an indication of a generation shift in the party’s state unit as well as its attempt at social engineering.
The party also named two first-time MLAs — Punjab Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh baiter Bharat Bhushan Ashu (43) from Ludhiana and Navtej Singh Cheema (41) from Sultanpur Lodhi, as Deputy CLP leader and Chief Whip in the Assembly, respectively. While Ashu is a Hindu, Cheema is a Jat Sikh. The appointments also reflect AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s influence on appointments.
It is after a long time that the CLP leader has a Deputy and the Chief Whip has been appointed four years after the election of the government.
In the process, however, the party has ignored Amarinder who was batting for Sunil Jakhar’s renomination.
Amarinder had also pitched his loyalist, Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, as second choice when the party was reporetdly insistent on naming an SC as the CLP leader.
Channi, who won local bodies elections on Congress ticket from Kharar in the early 2000s, had rebelled against the party nominee in the 2007 Assembly elections, went on to contest and win as an Independent.
He then became an associate member of the Shiromani Akali Dal in the Assembly and got very close to PPP’s Manpreet Badal. However, Channi joined Congress in December 2010, apparently with Captain Amarinder’s help.
Later, he got in touch with senior Congress leader CP Joshi while he was poll incharge, who introduced him to Rahul.
He has been staying neutral in the ugly fight between former party president Partap Singh Bajwa and the incumbent, Amarinder.
Ashu, a known critic of Amarinder, who never became a part of his luncheons and rallies, too, has a direct channel with Rahul.
He is part of Rahul’s troika in Punjab that include Indian Youth Congress chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring and AICC secretary Kuljit Nagra.
Channi called his elevation a revolutionary step and a harbinger of generational shift, “The party has proved it is for the poor. I will be a crusader for their rights,” he said.