By Sushil Kutty
Captain Amarinder Singh’s bed of thorns is now occupied by Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit Sikh and the first of his kind! Meaning there’s never been a Dalit Chief Minister of Punjab despite Dalit strength in Punjab’s population approximating 32 percent, one of those mysteries that nobody cares to unravel.
Channi went to bed Sunday night – Sept 19, 2021 – and Monday morning brought with it awkwardness. Handpicked by Rahul Gandhi, Channi is a #MeToo accused who got away with a “pardon”. Also, Punjab in charge Harish Rawat has said that Punjab Congress unit chief Navjot Singh Sidhu will lead the Congress campaign for the 2022 polls, not the Chief Minister.
That’s cold water over Channi’s turbaned head. Whatever happened to the 32 percent Dalit vote he represents? The first reaction after Channi got the yoyo from the high-command, making him the CM-designate, was “Well done Rahul”. But, it seems, malevolent spirits don’t depart the scene immediately.
Or else, how come the laughter challenger wasn’t making a ruckus when the names of Charanjit Singh Channi, Ambika Soni, Randhava and Jakhar were bandied about? Sidhu packs a massive ego and doesn’t like to be second to none. And, yet, here he was third or fourth!
Now we know! Sidhu was perhaps promised the vanguard of the 2022 election campaign. Besides, who wants to be Chief Minister for max 6-7 months? A five-year stint or double that is worth its “wait”. Till then, keep working to get a winning start. In Sidhu’s mind, the Punjab voter had already cast his vote.
On September 19, when the names of Sunil Jakhar, AmbikaSoni, Sukhjinder Randhawa were talked about, they represented the non-Sikh, Punjabi Hindu and Jatt Sikh. The state unit chief was Jatt Sikh. And the hunt for a “turbaned Dalit” CM stopped at Charajit Singh Channi.
Channi checked all the right boxes. He was Dalit. Two, Rahul Gandhi was pitching for Dalit. Three, Channi was once the Leader of Opposition. Four, he was also a senior minister. Plus, he was an “Amarinder critic”, too. Last, picking Charanjit Singh Channi would guarantee the Dalit vote, not just in Punjab but pan-India.
And winning over the Dalit community’s important to undercut the Akali Dal, AAP and the BJP. Channi’s name evoked a positive response from others including senior leader AmbikaSoni, who herself was propositioned, but refused the honour. She was like “let’s save the blushes that’ll be bound to come”.
Now, there’s Amarinder Singh to contend with. He said he would object to Sidhu being picked up for Chief Minister. Singh outright called Sidhu “Pakistani supporter” and “Bajwa’s man” in a border state, therefore “dangerous”. Now, Congress sympathizers on Social Media are returning the favour with talk of the “Captain’s Pakistani girlfriend”.
Things are getting ugly. They will get uglier with passage of time and as the elections approach. Channiwil be slandered for #MeToo. Capt. Amarinder Singh for his “Pakistani girlfriend”, and Sidhu for hugging Gen. Qamar Bajwa. Amidst all these, there’ll be “Udta Punjab” and drug-loaded Punjabi –- Sikh and non-Sikh.
Also, the Aam Aadmi Party is ploughing into the rural hinterland for votes. AAP is spoken about as the ruling party in waiting! Especially in the Malwa region. The Gandhi siblings also see the AAP coming – therefore, the Dalit CM.
If so, why say Sidhu will head the election campaign? Sidhu is not a “doer”, he’s essentially a quintessential “spoiler”. Singh’s resignation from the Punjab CM’s post wasn’t a surprise. He asserts he stepped down on his own. But that’s only for popular consumption. The Congress has been taken over by the Gandhi siblings. They wanted Amarinder Singh gone for good.
For now, it’s wait for 2022 and assembly elections. Punjab will see interesting four-cornered contests – Congress, Akali Dal, BJP and AAP. There are people who say the Congress has made it difficult for itself with a change in guard so close to elections. Some call it “masterstroke”, others term it “damage control”.
For the most number of people, though, AAP is not a dark-horse, but the one to bet on. Punjab is different from other states. The BJP is out of the reckoning. The Akali Dal has an outside chance. The Congress, perhaps, a bigger chance. But, it’s the AAP which has the “hawa” behind it. (IPA Service)