Chandigarh: Charanjit Singh Channi took oath as new Punjab chief minister today in Chandigarh. The 58-year-old is the first dalit chief minister of the state. OP Soni and Sukhjinder Randhawa also took oath as ministers in the ceremony. Channi, a three-time MLA from Chamkaur Sahib, had emerged as the unanimous choice for the CM’s post following hectic discussions on Sunday.
Rahul Gandhi attended the oath ceremony — contrary to earlier reports that he would not — making an exception given the tumultuous circumstances of the Punjab switch. He has faced heavy criticism over his handling of the Punjab Congress crisis, raging for the past six months because of the ceaseless feud between Amarinder Singh and Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Just before the new Chief Minister’s takeover, a top Punjab Congress leader’s tweet made it clear that the transition would not be as smooth as the party would hope.
Former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, who was briefly considered for the top post, hit out at a comment by the party’s Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat in support of Navjot Sidhu.
“On the swearing-in day of Charanjit Channi as Chief Minister, Mr Rawat’s statement that ‘elections will be fought under Sidhu’, is baffling. It is likely to undermine the Chief Minister’s (designate) authority but also negate the very ‘raison d’etre’ of his selection for this position,” he tweeted.
On the swearing-in day of Sh @Charnjit_channi as Chief Minister, Mr Rawats’s statement that “elections will be fought under Sidhu”, is baffling. It’s likely to undermine CM’s authority but also negate the very ‘raison d’être’ of his selection for this position.
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) September 20, 2021
Mr Channi was chosen after much back-and-forth on Sunday that saw at least two more candidates edged out of the race. The party’s first pick, Ambika Soni, reportedly turned down the offer in a late-night meeting with Rahul Gandhi; she reportedly stressed on the ramifications of a non-Sikh Chief Minister as the Congress seeks re-election.
The Congress is betting on the vote of Dalits, constituting around 31 per cent of Punjab’s population. However, the community has never voted cohesively for any one leader in the past.
After months of bickering with Mr Sidhu and other rebels, Amarinder Singh or “Captain” resigned on Saturday after the Congress called a sudden meeting of MLAs without informing him. He called Congress resident Sonia Gandhi and told her he felt humiliated for the third time this year. He told NDTV that though he had resigned, he would not accept Mr Sidhu as the party’s face for the Punjab polls.
The Captain has refused to reveal his plans, and his answers to questions on his future in the Congress have been ominous for the party. In the past, he had formed his own outfit before returning to the Congress.