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Explained: 5 challenges before new Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi

Charanjit Singh Channi becomes the Punjab Chief Minister at a time when the ruling Congress is ridden with factionalism, faces anger on the street, and has barely four months to get its act together before the state goes to polls. His work is cut out.

Written by Manraj Grewal Sharma , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
Updated: September 21, 2021 7:23:52 am
Charanjit Singh Channi in Chandigarh on Sunday, September 19, 2021. (Express Photo: Jasbir Malhi)

Forgive the cliché, but heavy is the head that wears the crown. Charanjit Singh Channi, the man who has grown from the ranks and is known for his native wisdom, becomes the Punjab chief minister at a time when the ruling Congress is ridden with factionalism, faces anger on the street, and has barely four months to get its act together before the state goes to polls. His work is cut out. Here are the five big challenges that stare at the new CM.

Keeping the flock together

The Congress today is a house divided. Many see Channi as a stopgap or a consensus candidate at best. Channi’s deputy chief ministers — Om Parkash Soni and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa — are senior to him in age and experience. Both Randhawa and Soni, veterans of the party, are unlikely to play second fiddle to him. Soni, once the mayor of Amritsar, won two assembly elections as an independent before successfully contesting the next three on the Congress ticket. Randhawa is considered a ‘dabbang’, quick to anger. Then there is Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu whose chief ministerial aspirations are no secret.

The legislators are anxious about their ticket and the party’s prospects. Most of them claim they revolted because they couldn’t see former CM Capt Amarinder Singh leading them to victory. How Channi makes them believe in his leadership and navigates these power centres will decide his future as well as that of his government.

“It will require deft manoeuvering; it will not be easy, for even (former CM) Capt Amarinder Singh might want to sabotage him. Also, Harish Rawat has done him a great disservice by saying Sidhu will lead the party,” says Ashutosh Kumar, a senior political scientist at Panjab University, Chandigarh. Likening Channi to a new engine saddled with old carriages, Prof Jagroop Sekhon, a political scientist at Amritsar’s Guru Nanak Dev University, says, “It will not be easy to gain speed.”

Farmers

It is no secret that the political party, which gets farmers in its corner in Punjab, will sweep the coming elections. Channi attempted to address the agitating farmers in his maiden press conference, after being sworn in as CM, by calling for the withdrawal of the three central farm laws. But that is a call which was given by his predecessor as well. How he can woo them into voting for the party remains to be seen.

Satnam Singh Pannu, chief of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, is clear that they will not ask their flock to vote for a party, but added that they would certainly gravitate towards one seen as sympathetic.

Sacrilege and drugs

These are the twin issues that were repeatedly flagged by dissidents. Experts say there is no magic bullet solution to the drug problem.

“Drugs are a structural issue. They involve local politicians as well as international cartels. Similarly, the cases of sacrilege are in the court. It will be naïve to think of a resolution in just three to four months,’’ says Sekhon. Channi, say political pundits, will have to take steps that take care of optics and voter expectation.

The 18-point agenda

The Congress high command has given an 18-point agenda that needs the cooperation of both the ministers and the bureaucrats. Channi needs the smarts of a management whiz if he wants to implement this agenda. Or he can use the collective expertise of the bureaucracy at his service.

“That will also not be easy as the bureaucracy may drag its feet given that elections are around the corner,” says Ashutosh.

But either way, he and Sidhu will have to give direction and monitor the progress of every project.

As Ashutosh says, “Given the short time-frame, he will have to be a hands–on CM.”

Public perception

Former state Congress chief Sunil Kumar Jakhar claims the state government has taken impactful decisions in the recent past but there has been no attempt to publicise these and take credit. “The old age pension has been increased to Rs 1,500 a month. Around 26 lakh people will get this sum in hand. In Delhi, people voted for AAP all because they were making savings of a few thousand on their power bills. But we are yet to publicise these schemes, what to talk of getting credit.’’

Capt Amarinder lost the battle of public perception despite his larger-than-life image. Channi will have to win it.

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