Of the many words being used for Charanjit Singh Channi, the new Punjab Chief Minister, ‘patchwork’ is perhaps the oddest of all. Its mere mention makes many in Punjab either laugh or sympathise with him (depending on which party they belong to), recalling one of the many times that Channi became the object of mockery on Punjabi social media.
The ‘patchwork’ comment goes back to the March of 2016, when Channi was the Leader of Opposition in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha and the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) combine was in power. On a particularly unlucky day for Channi, the then Deputy Chief Minister, Sukhbir Singh Badal, and his men decided to turn into bullies after Channi gave an aggressive speech against the Budget.
Sukhbir dared Channi to list one achievement of the 2002-07 Congress regime, to which an excitable Channi replied, “Patchwork on all the roads of Punjab”.
Guffaws ensued, and anything else that Channi may have said was lost in the din. The video went viral, and “patchwork” stuck, only to be revived now in another context. Many believe that Dalit leader Channi is temporary “patchwork” by Congress after it removed Amarinder Singh as Chief Minister to smoothen out the road for Navjot Singh Sidhu, a Jat Sikh, who might take over the reins if the Congress wins Punjab again next year.
Vaastu, Coin Toss, And Luck
Whatever be the circumstances of Channi’s elevation, one can’t help but wonder if luck played an ‘elephantine’ role. In 2017, Channi arranged for an elephant to be brought to his house in Kharar and then rode it on his lawn, reportedly for good luck. The photo is still out there somewhere on the Internet. Four years on, he rode a car to the Raj Bhawan.
Given how the Congress flitted between names before deciding on Channi, many on Punjabi social media were also reminded of how Channi had once decided between two candidates. Toss a coin? Channi would’ve approved of the method.
When Channi was the Technical Education Minister, two lecturers wanted to be posted to the same polytechnic but there was just one post. Channi tossed a coin, the video went viral, and a government spokesperson was later left defending his “exercise in transparency”.
Channi’s belief in luck and other such stuff does not end there.
Soon after he was made a Minister in the Amarinder Singh government in 2017, Channi got worried about the ‘vaastu; of his official residence in Chandigarh’s manicured Sector 2.
The entry of the house was from the west, something he could not afford if he wanted to remain successful, or so he was told by an astrologer. A park was dug up and a new entry was created, this one from the east, only for Channi to realise that Chandigarh isn’t quite Punjab. After some pressure from the local media and vocal uncles in the neighbourhood, the Union Territory administration swung into action and demolished it. As unfair as it may sound, the west prevailed over the east.
But Channi is No Aberration
To be fair, Channi is no aberration. In his first press conference as Chief Minister, he started his speech by declaring that he is an ‘aam aadmi’, a common man. Hence, his belief in luck, astrology and vaastu isn’t uncommon.
But sitting next to Channi at the press conference was also state Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu, who used to carry a Shiva temple in a small golden box everywhere he went, often setting it up on the table before starting off.
Known for going by his astrologer’s advice, Sidhu even faced the ire of some Sikh outfits that accused him of propagating beliefs “forbidden” in Sikhism.
Anyhow, it’s going well for Channi and Sidhu. Perhaps it’s luck, or just some smart politics. Looking at how things have turned out in Punjab over the past few days, it’s hard to tell the difference, really.
For now, as the only serving Dalit Chief Minister in the country, Channi represents something much bigger than himself. And that’s not just some stroke of luck.
(The writer is a journalist who has worked for prominent news outlets in Chandigarh and New Delhi. He is currently an assistant professor of journalism at Bennett University and is reachable at email@example.com and on Twitter @aarishc.)