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RaGa declares Channi CM face, says ‘Punjab needs leader who understands poor’

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

Chandigarh: Announcing incumbent Charanjit Singh Channi as Congress’ Chief Ministerial face of the upcoming Punjab assembly elections, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi said, “The CM face of Punjab is Charanjit Singh Channi. We asked Punjab and you have given us the decision. It was a tough decision to make. Punjab needs a leader who can understand the poor, feel their anxiety.”

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“The whole of Congress will now work towards the vision of transforming Punjab,” Rahul said, inviting Channi to say a few words after the announcement.

“This is a big fight, I am thankful to Punjab for choosing me as the CM hopeful of the Congress. I sincerely thank the Congress high command and people of Punjab for bestowing their trust in me. As you have seen us work so hard in the last 111 days to take Punjab forward, I assure you to take Punjab and Punjabis on the path of progress with new zeal and dedication,” Channi said.

Before declaring Channi as the CM candidate, Rahul said, “I asked him (Channi) what his father did for a living. Do you know his life? He understands poverty. Deeply so.”

He added, “Punjab is Hindustan’s shield. This state has to choose its leader on its own. My job is to hear and understand your voice. I can have an opinion, but your opinion matters most. All our leaders are gems and I was given the tough task of choosing one of them.”

Rahul made the announcement at a rally in Ludhiana amid loud cheers, after holding over an hour of a closed-door meeting with CM Channi, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sunil Jhakar.

The Congress, this time, decided to go with a CM candidate with other senior leaders in Punjab insisting on it. Since AAP has picked Bhagwant Mann to be party’s CM face in the state, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) as well as the BJP-led alliance have not made any official announcements yet. Punjab polls will be held in single phase on February 20.

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This triggered an apparent “standoff” between Channi and state unit Navjot Singh Sidhu with both staking a claim to become the CM face of the Congress in Punjab. But it seems that Channi came out victorious, with Gandhi announcing his name at a rally in Ludhiana. The meeting was held between Gandhi, Channi and Sidhu.

Channi replaced Captain Amarinder Singh as the chief minister in September last year. He is the first Scheduled Caste CM of Punjab. He is a three-time MLA and was also the leader of the opposition in the Punjab legislative assembly.

Sidhu and other senior Congress leaders like Sunil Jakhar, who announced his retirement from “active politics” earlier in the day, were also present. The rally was first addressed by Congress whip in Lok Sabha, Ravneet Singh Bittu while the closed-door meeting was on. The Congress had earlier announced that it will declared the name of the CM face at 2 pm, but it was delayed due to the discussions.

Sidhu and Jakhar addressed the rally before Rahul made the announcement. Sidhu said, “I am thankful to Rahul Gandhi that he made me the Punjab Congress president in just the fourth year of my association with the party; my father also worked for this party. In my 13-year association of the BJP, I was only used as a campaigner. I respect Rahul ji’s decisions, and will continue to do so.”

He then claimed that he had never sought any post or chair and only wants best for Punjab. “Rahul Gandhi is a lion, and he will not be indecisive. I had told him a story in 2017 of how a rabbit was run over by a car as it could not decide which way to go, but he is a lion,” Sidhu added.

Sidhu also specifically asked Channi to clap and not just smile. At this, Channi got up and embraced the Punjab Congress president. “I request Rahul Gandhi not to reduce me to a show horse. A thoroughbred, even if injured, is better than any show horse,” he said, adding, “every Punjabi trusts Sidhu, if I get power to make decisions, I will end mafia and people will have a good life. But if someone else is made CM, I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with them.”

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Jakhar said Rahul had made the “biggest decision” of his political career when he made a Dalit man, named Charanjit Singh Channi, the CM of Punjab. “It is the most historic decision you’ve (Rahul Gandhi) made. You will be remembered for it,” he added.

There was speculation that Gandhi may announce the CM face at the Ludhiana rally. During his previous visit to Punjab on January 27, Rahul had announced that the Congress will announce the name of a CM candidate for the upcoming elections and a decision on it will be taken soon after consulting party workers. Besides taking feedback from party leaders and workers, the Congress also sought the opinion of the public on who should it be its CM face through an automated call system.

For the past several weeks, both Channi and Sidhu have, directly or indirectly, made a case for themselves to be declared as the party’s candidate for the top post. Addressing a virtual rally in Jalandhar last week, Rahul had said Channi and Sidhu have assured him that whoever is chosen, the other will support him.

He had made the statement after Sidhu demanded at the rally that the party declare its CM face for the Punjab polls and said he did not want to be a “showpiece”. Channi had then said he was never after any post and would wholeheartedly back the party’s candidate for the top post.

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