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Amid Congress CM face survey: Jakhar stirs the pot; ‘MLAs wanted me, high command picked Channi last year’

Jakhar's public remarks have put the Congress in an embarrassing position where it is finding it hard to announce its chief ministerial face in the poll-bound state.

Jakhar's public remarks have put the Congress in an embarrassing position where it is finding it hard to announce its chief ministerial face in the poll-bound state.

Former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar says he is not in the race to be party’s CM face. Congress’s currently underway tele-survey to pick its CM candidate does not include his name either. But then barely few days before Punjab votes, Jakhar, who is not even in the poll fray, has decided to set the record straight by stating that back in September last year, 42 out of 79 incumbent Congress MLAs had backed him to CM, while just 2 had named Charanjit Singh Channi.

After Capt Amarinder Singh’s resignation, Jakhar was among the frontrunners to be Punjab CM. The post, however, went to Channi, who became the state’s first CM from the Dalit community. At that time, senior Congress leader Ambika Soni had suggested the party should go with a Sikh face.

Jakhar, while addressing party workers in Abohar’s Maujgarh on Tuesday, said: “Today I am telling you a fact… when former CM Capt Amarinder Singh had left Congress in September last year, all the 79 MLAs were asked to vote for the next CM face…at that time 42 voted for me, 16 for Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, 12 for Preneet Kaur (Amarinder’s wife), 6 for Navjot Singh Sidhu and only two for Charanjit Singh Channi.” Jakhar’s nephew, Sandeep Jakhar, is Congress’s candidate from the Abohar seat.

Read |As Channi drops in, on other side is AAP’s ‘humble man’ in ‘safe’ seat

In the video of Jakhar’s address that has now gone viral, he is further heard saying that he was happy that so many MLAs posed faith in him even though he was neither the PPCC chief nor even an MLA at that time.

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Rahul Gandhi called me and asked why I was not keen on becoming deputy CM of Punjab. I told him it was more than enough that people took my name as a popular choice as CM face. I didn’t want anything else. Otherwise, what was I at that time, I was not even an MLA,” Jakhar said.

Rimple Midha, a spokesperson of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC), however, defended her party’s decision. He told The Indian Express that Channi had been made CM in view of the Assembly elections this year. “It is the party’s prerogative to decide the CM. No doubt calling all 79 MLAs to know their choice was one of the methods adopted by the party. But that was not the only method. Later, the party unanimously decided on Charanjit Singh Channi looking at the coming Vidhan Sabha elections…and everyone had agreed to it,” Midha said.

Interestingly, Jakhar’s name is not a part of party’s tele-survey that seeks to know whether the Congress should name Channi or Sidhu or it should not name its CM candidate at all. Jakhar’s address to workers has, however, put a question mark on Congress going with the tele-survey’s outcome.

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“If Congress did not honour opinion of its MLAs at that time, how would it honour anyone else’s opinion?” asked a leader.
Midha said: “Now, (for coming polls), the party has two faces – Navjot Singh Sidhu and Charanjit Singh Channi – based on public feedback, and they will be announcing a CM face out of the two soon.”

When asked whether Jakhar’s comments showed there was difference of opinion among leaders within the Congress, she added: “It is the fundamental right of every person to air his or her opinion in a democratic country.”

Meanwhile, Jakhar on Wednesday supported Channi’s candidature for CM’s post if Congress wins the current polls.

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Jakhar also said that the video of his Abohar address cannot be considered as him throwing his hat in the ring for the CM’s post.
“I am not even contesting elections. Let alone being in the race for the CM’s candidate,” he said.

Claiming that he was showing his gratitude to the MLAs for voting for him during his speech, he added: “I am indebted. I cannot pay back to them. Not even to the party.”

Jakhar said that the MLAs survey and 42 votes for him was know earlier too.

It was widely reported last year that Jakhar was tipped to be the next CM after Amarinder’s removal. He was blocked by Randhawa, who was in turn blocked by Sidhu.

On Wednesday, however, Jakhar did not hide his displeasure against veteran leader Ambika Soni, who had given a statement that a Hindu cannot be a CM in Punjab.

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“Besides her, Punjab’s two-three leaders also said that if a Hindu is made the CM, Punjab will be on fire… But the fact remains that I never went to Marriot hotel where the Congress, had sent the observers to talk to MLAs. I never told any MLA to vote for me,” he said.
Backing Channi to party’s CM face, he said: “You cannot change horses at this time. They should give an opportunity to Channi. The decision has been taken as he is already the CM. They should have taken the opinion then. Once Channi is the CM, this vote is undermining his authority. However, the choice of high command is my choice.”

The Opposition, meanwhile, has already launched an attack of Congress with SAD spokesperson Dr Daljit Singh Cheema demanding resignation from AICC chief Sonia Gandhi for the alleged “fraud” committed with the people of Punjab.

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“The Congress high command has not only cheated its legislators but the entire rank and file by making Charanjit Channi the Chief Minister of the state. This was done even though Channi secured only two votes during an internal ballot of legislators which was held to decide Captain Amarinder Singh’s replacement as chief minister…This also shows that the inner-party democracy of the Congress is a sham and that it is still run in a dictatorial manner by the Gandhi family,” said Cheema.

Meanwhile, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) on Wednesday said that former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar’s confession that he had received the support of 42 legislators and Charanjit Singh Channi had received the support of two had exposed “the electoral fraud committed by the Congress high command in the name of inner-party democracy” while choosing the CM after the ouster of Captain Amarinder Singh.

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In a written statement, SAD spokesperson and former minister, Daljit Singh Cheema, demanded the immediate resignation of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. “The Congress high command has not only cheated its legislators but the entire rank and file by making Charanjit Channi the Chief Minister of the state. This was done even though Channi secured only two votes during an internal ballot of legislators which was held to decide Captain Amarinder Singh’s replacement as chief minister,” he said.

“The Congress also owes an explanation to the party as to why it did not proceed on the principle of inner-party democracy. This also shows that the inner-party democracy of the Congress is a sham and that it is still run in a dictatorial manner by the Gandhi family,” added Cheema.

First published on: 02-02-2022 at 05:58:16 pm
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