In Punjab is in a state of flux, and the Congress party has become a laughing stock across the country. That is just one of the takeaways from what is happening in Punjab at the moment.
On September 18, at 5pm, Congress Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh suddenly tendered his resignation, allegedly fed up with the machinations of Navjot Singh Sidhu. Sidhu’s apparent ‘courage’, of course, emanated from the unstinted and (now) unwise advice of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi behind the wings.
The party had immediately replaced the Captain, with Punjab’s first ‘Dalit’ Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi. Sidhu, of course, remained the state party chief, a post he had recently wrangled. Then came the next act of the laughable circus. As soon as Channi’s new cabinet was sworn in, Sidhu decided that he did not like the home ministry to go to the Deputy Chief Minister, because Sidhu liked the tradition of that ministry staying with the CM.
So Sidhu resigned as the party chief, a decision that was not accepted by the party till the time of going to print, while Sidhu remaining adamant that he would not take back his resignation, saying he had resigned as a matter of principle, whatever that means to him.
What had happened in the apparent interregnum? Sidhu had been opposing, tooth and nail, the allotment of the home department to Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa. While Sidhu’s argument was that this department traditionally belonged to the Chief Minster, it also meant that since Channi was an acknowledged chela of Sidhu, the ex-cricketer would be able to manipulate this important portfolio to his benefit through the pliant CM. Randhawa remains closer to Amarinder than Sidhu.
Initially Randhawa’s name was being proposed for the CM’s job. That got Sidhu’s goat. He had left the hotel where he was with Congress general secretary Harish Rawat (also head of the selection committee) in a huff. He went straight to Delhi and handed over his resignation as PPCC chief.
So, as a compromise, when Channi was elevated to the top post and Randhawa was given the portfolio, Sidhu remained adamant.
Sidhu is also against the appointment of senior IPS officer Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota, who has been given the additional charge of the Director General of Punjab Police. Sahota had given a clean chit to Manpreet Badal six years back in the sacrilege case and this seems to have got Sidhu in a knot.
What has Sidhu said? He wrote in his resignation letter: “The collapse of a man’s character stems from the compromise corner, I can never compromise on Punjab’s future and the agenda for the welfare of Punjab. My father has taught me to always tread the path of truth. I have fought for issues concerning Punjab for a long time.”
Also, in a video statement he posted on Twitter, Sidhu said: “My 17 years of political career is for a cause. My objective in politics is to improve the lives of people in Punjab, to make a difference and to stand firm. I will never compromise with my ethics and moral authority. Currently, what I see is a compromise with issues and agenda in Punjab. I can’t disguise (sic) high command nor can I let them be disguised. I will sacrifice whatever I need to in order to install a system of governance which is transparent and not corrupt.”
On Sahota, he said: “When I see those who gave clean chit to Badals six years back… such persons have been given the responsibility for delivering justice.” Not just that, he also questioned the appointment of APS Deol as the state’s new Advocate General. On that his comment was: “Those who secured blanket bails, they are advocate general.”
A damp squib
Meanwhile, The entire exercise of Congress’ so called masterstroke of placing a ‘Dalit’ Sikh – whatever that means, because Sikhism fundamentally rejects caste identities – has now come undone. The backroom work of Prince Rahul has, again, unfolded into a circus. As Sidhu resigned, Amarinder tweeted: “I told you so…he is not a stable man and not fit for the border state of Punjab,” in an apparent dig at the party leadership.”
Sidhu has been also referred to as an “unguided” or “misguided missile” by many, and the very fact that Sidhu has been jumpy about every single decision that has not passed his muster, points to a very disturbing psychological aspect of this leader. Memories of his apparent killing a man in the heat of the moment a long time back comes back.
How Rahul Gandhi, the uncrowned prince of the Congress Party realized any potential in Sidhu remains a mystery.
This being a factional infighting with a faction of the Congress, the confrontation between the followers of Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi and those of Rahul Gandhi – he holds no post, hence no accountability, but wields unusual authority, it seems – is now in the open.
Channi was sworn in on September 20. Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and OP Soni were also sworn in. They were designated as deputy chief ministers.
As of the “Dalit” issue, it seems the high ideals of Sikhism have been ground to dust. In India today ideologies mean nothing, and all alliances, be it in Hinduism or Sikhism, even Islam and Christianity, are made on caste lines. The very thought that the makers of India’s constitution had in trying to make this country religion and caste agnostic has been thrown into the dustbin of history.
Hence, a “Dalit”, Sikh Chief Minister, heads Punjab. So the elevation of the 58-year-old three-time legislator Channi was announced by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) as the leader of the Punjab Congress Legislature Party (CLP). This machination was aided and abetted by Ajay Maken and Harish Chowdhry as central observers for the CLP meeting along with Harish Rawat. They were deputed by the party high command.
Channi became the state’s 27th Chief Minister. Said Rawat on Twitter: “It gives me immense pleasure to announce that Sh. #Charanjit Singh Channi has been unanimously elected as the Channi was among the Cabinet Ministers in the outgoing government who rebelled against Amarinder Singh, saying the latter had not fulfilled the party’s 2017 election promises.
It is now evident that Sindhu wants to have the cake and eat it too, wanting to rule the state through Channi, unless, as per Congress tradition, Channi himself became too ambitious.
Who does this benefit? Unlikely the fractious Congress. AAP waits by the wings to spread further, and may even spread faster than one thought it would.
Amarinder and BJP?
Another wild rumour is doing the rounds. It is no secret that Home Minister Amit Shah holds the Maharaja of Patiala in high esteem, and has said that he feels “safe” that such a person was in charge of a border state like Punjab. Rumours flew fast as Amarinder landed in Delhi immediately after, but the ex-CM himself has said that he was in Delhi only to empty the Patiala House and personal work. We shall keep it at that.
His last effort
Before his resignation Amarinder had written to Sonia, expressing anguish over the political events of the last five months. He wrote that these events were clearly “not based on full understanding of the national imperatives of Punjab and its key concerns.”
Meanwhile, Rahul has Tweeted: “Congratulations to Shri Charanjit Singh Channi Ji for the new responsibility. We must continue to fulfill the promises made to the people of Punjab. Their trust is of paramount importance.”
Before the fiasco, Sidhu, with his usual exuberance, tweeted: “Historic !! Punjab’s first Dalit CM-Designate … Will be written with Golden letters in History. A tribute to the spirit of the Constitution and the Congress.”
Amarinder has said: “My best wishes to Charanjit Singh Channi. I hope he’s able to keep the border state of Punjab safe and protect our people from the growing security threat from across the border.”
Channi’s new Cabinet
The new cabinet looks like this :The CM plus two Deputy CMs, along with 15 cabinet ministers, in which there are 7 new faces.
CM : Charanjit Singh Channi
Deputy CMs : Sukhjinder S Randhawa and OP Soni
New faces : Randeep Singh Nabha, Raj Kumar Verka, Sangat Singh Gilzian, Pargat Singh, Amarinder Singh Raja Warring and Gurkirat Singh Kotli.
Rana Gurjit Singh has made a comeback after resigning in 2018 from the Amrinder Singh Ministry.
Old faces : Brahm Mohindra, Manpreet Singh Badal, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Aruna Chaudhary, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, Vijay Inder Singla and Bharat Bhushan Ashu.
Who is Charanjit Singh Channi? Channi was born on March 1 1963, in a village called Makrona Kalan in the Rupnagar District of Punjab. As mentioned earlier, he belongs to the Dalit Sikh community. What that means is that when his forefathers took up Sikhism, they adopted all the great teachings and practices of the religion, but society forced them to cling on to their Dalit roots, something that never washes away in India.
As for education, he is studying law at Panjab University and has an MBA from PTU Jalandhar.
He entered political life early. Whiel doingt his final exams for school from Khalsa Senior Secondary School, Kharar, he was elected president of the students’ union. His interest in p;olitics remained strong as he enrolled for graduation at Sri Guru Gobind Singh College, Chandigarh. There, too, he was elected general secretary of the students’ union.
The Congress’ calculation of Dalits in Punjab was crucial in this choice. Of the state’s 3 crore (27.7 million) population, nearly a third – or 32% – are Dalits (Mazhabi Sikh – 10%, Ramdasia Sikh/Ravidassia (Chamar)/Ad-Dharmi – 13.1%, Balmiki/Bhanghi – 3.5%, Bazigar – 1.05%, Others – 4%) as per the 2011 Census.
That makes Punjab the state with the highest percentage of Dalits. This interesting tag helped Channi progress through the political rigmarole. He was elected to the Punjab Vidhan Sabha for the first time in 2007. He was again elected in 2012 and then in 2017. He was the Leader of the Opposition in 14th Punjab Vidhan Sabha. He was also the president of the municipal Council, Kharar for two terms and Municipal Councillor for three terms. He was member of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee and General Secretary of the Punjab Youth Congress, Member of Committee on Public Undertakings and Committee on Subordinate Legislation, Committee on Public Accounts and Privileges Committee of Punjab Vidhan Sabha.
Of course, Channi is not without his scars. A #MeToo case is pending against Channi for allegedly sending an inappropriate text to a woman (an IAS officer) in 2018. In the absence of any complaint filed by the woman Channi said the issue was “resolved”. Only, it was not. The issue came to light, again, in May this year when the Punjab Women’s Commission sent notice to the state government asking for its response to the allegation. Punjab Women’s Commission chairperson Manisha Gulati has even threatened to go on a hunger strike if there was no action against Channi.
The second controversy has been about illegal mining. The allegation was brought by AAP MLA Bholath Sukhpal Singh Khaira, when he was the leader of the opposition. That happened in March 2018. Khaira had accused that Channi was involved in illegal mining through his nephew Bhupinder Singh. The minister of course denied the charge.
Khaira alleged that the Malikpur mine in Nawanshahr district was allotted to Kudratdeep Singh of Ludhiana, who is the business partner and close associate of Channi’s nephew Bhupinder Singh. Khaira has been quoted as saying: “The CM had tweeted about the illegal mining being carried out in the SBS Nagar area a few days back, I have provided the facts about it and now it is the CM’s turn to take action against the people responsible for it.” The CM at the time was Amarinder.
Nothing has been proved, the charges have bung around.
In another controversial move, Channi completed his oath taking by touching Rahul Gandhi’s feet.
Channi also believes in astrology. Good for him, but when this leads to his – this happened days after he joined the cabinet – creating an east-facing entry to his house by illegally constructing a road from a park outside his official residence in Sector 2, Chandigarh, on the advice of an astrologer, then it goes a bit out of hand.
Of course, the Chandigarh administration razed the road within hours. Then there is this case of his riding an elephant on the lawn of his house in Kharar – again on his astrologer’s advice. Images of this funny act have amused many on social media.
A self goal
It was Amarinder Singh who helped Channi return to the party in December 2010, three years after he had rebelled against Congress nominee for Chamkaur Sahib in 2007. He fought and won the seat as an independent, and went on to become an associate member of the Shiromani Akali Dal in the Assembly. At one point, he was considered close to Manpreet Badal, a minister in Amarinder cabinet.
Channi has, of course, been ambitious – and that is a red flag that Sidhu has to be wary of now. As he returned to the Congress, with Amarinder’s help, he reportedly made efforts to get in touch with Rahul Gandhi through senior Congress leader CP Joshi. Meanwhile, Amarinder was fighting his own battle, taking care of a good deal of infighting – as is the nature of Congress – to oust Partap Singh Bajwa from the post of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief in 2015.
The journey has brought him thus far. Tweeted Channi: “Heartfelt gratitude and thanks to the top leadership for appointing me Chief Minister of Punjab… I will always work for the welfare of the people and to give new energy and momentum to the sustainable development journey of the state.”
“There’s a higher ideal than power, than ministers holding org positions. That higher ideal is ensuring peace, tranquillity & stability of a border state like Punjab. Under those circumstances what has been playing itself out is extremely unfortunate. Punjab is a border state, it’s going through intense social upheaval primarily because of angst in people against farm laws. Under those circumstances, if such shenanigans played themselves out in public space, it has serious implications on stability of a border state.”
“One man (Navjot Singh Sidhu) leaving/joining the party doesn’t affect our prospects to win the election, Congress will form the govt again… What he did is no less than betrayal”
– Party leader Jasveer Singh Kamboj