Charanjit Channi To Be Punjab's First Dalit CM: Why Congress Chose Him Over Rest

Charanjit Channi was picked after a day of high drama with a number of other names doing the round

Punjab Election
3 min read

Video Producer: Naman Shah

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

After high drama all through Sunday, the Congress party chose Chamkaur Sahib MLA Charanjit Singh Channi as the next chief minister of Punjab. He will be the first Dalit chief minister of Punjab, a state where Scheduled Castes account for 31.9 percent of the population, the highest in the country.

Presently, he is the only Dalit CM in the country.

Channi, 57, has been minister of technical education, employment and tourism in the Captain Amarinder Singh government.



Channi was born in a Ramdasia Sikh family in Makrona Kalan near Chamkaur Sahib. His father was a Sarpanch who had also briefly worked in Malaysia to support his family.

Channi completed completed college at the Sri Guru Gobind Singh College, Chandigarh after which he studied law at Panjab University, Chandigarh. He also has an MBA from Punjab Technical University Jalandhar.

After being a municipal councillor in Kharar for three terms, he contested as an independent candidate from Chamkaur Sahib in 2007 and won.

He won again in 2012 and 2017 as a Congress candidate and became a minister in Captain Amarinder Singh's government.

In the past few months, Channi has been one of the most vocal critics of Captain Amarinder Singh. Captain's detractors like Sukhjinder Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Bajwa, Sukhbinder Sarkaria and others accused the then CM of reviving an old case against Channi to harass him. Sidhu, too, supported Channi.

Channi is known to be a believer in "luck" and takes major decisions based on astrology and vaastu.


Channi's selection came after over 24 hours of high drama. It began with Captain Amarinder Singh resigning as CM and soon after launching attacks on Punjab Congress chief Navjot Sidhu. The names of Sunil Jakhar, Sukhjinder Randhawa, Navjot Sidhu and Partap Singh Bajwa were doing the rounds as possible replacements.

On Sunday, senior party leader Ambika Soni told the media that she had "declined" the offer to become CM for the remaining three months of the Congress' term.

She also said that "a Sikh should be the CM", indicating that Sunil Jakhar may not make the cut. Jakhar also lost out because he was seen as relatively more pro-Captain than other contenders.

Then by 3 PM on Sunday, the name of Sukhjinder Randhawa was said to be "almost confirmed" and was widely flashed in the media and social media.

However, the picture changed within a couple of hours. Apparently, there were concerns that if Randhawa is made CM, the CM and state party chief would both be Jatt Sikhs from Majha, creating an imbalance.

Sidhu too is said to have been reluctant on Randhawa as another Jatt Sikh leader may have been a direct threat to his base.

As a result, the party finally zeroed in on Channi.

The Congress may also try to capitalise on the fact that it has given Punjab its first Dalit CM.

Being from the anti-Captain camp, his elevation means their clear triumph in the factional tussle.

However, Captain was quick to tweet congratulating Channi, indicating that he isn't entirely opposed to this move and may have preferred Channi over both Sidhu and Randhawa.



Channi may not have the kind of recall value that Sidhu enjoys across Punjab but he isn't a political lightweight nor does he lack ambition.

He is popular in his own area and his influence may increase by virtue of being the first Dalit CM and the youngest CM that Punjab has seen in decades, a sharp contrast to his predecessors like Captain Amarinder Singh and Parkash Singh Badal.

So while Sidhu may have preferred Channi over Randhawa as the former has a different base, it would be naive of him to expect that Channi would let Sidhu become the CM face during the elections without a contest.

In all probability, the Congress may have to leave it open ended and project both the leaders and decide after the elections if they do end up getting a majority.

A lot would depend on whether Channi is able to fulfill key promises such as taking action on the sacrilege and drug trafficking cases or take steps towards job creation and addressing farmers' woes.

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