After much anticipation, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, on Sunday, 6 February, declared incumbent chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi as the party's CM candidate for the upcoming Punjab Assembly elections.
Making the announcement he said:
“People of Punjab have said, we want someone from a poor home as the chief minister. Somebody who understands the plight, hunger and fears of the poor. Because that’s what Punjab needs.”
The Quint had reported on 28 January that Channi's candidature as the CM face was in the final stages.
State Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and Channi were among the top contenders. The Congress, however, went with the latter, putting an end to the speculations. But what are the reasons behind this choice?
Who Is Charanjit Singh Channi?
Presently, Channi is the only Dalit CM in the country. He had been minister of technical education, employment, and tourism in the Captain Amarinder Singh government before replacing him as the chief minister.
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 studied 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.
Last year in September, the Congress chose Channi as the chief minister of Punjab after Amarinder was forced to quit amid the infighting in the party's state unit.
Here Are Four Reasons Why Congress Chose Chann
1. He is by far the most popular Congress leader in the state. Several opinion polls and the party's own internal surveys have shown that Channi is ahead of not just other Congress leaders but also rivals from other parties like Bhagwant Mann as a chief ministerial face.
2. In a short period of time, Channi had also helped rescue Congress from what appeared to be a certain defeat when a hugely unpopular Captain Amarinder Singh was at the helm.
3. There was also the fear in the Congress that by not declaring Channi as CM candidate, a wrong signal among Dalits would be sent - that there's a chance that he may not be made the CM even if the party wins the election. By naming him on Sunday, with Navjot Sidhu and Sunil Jakhar by his side, the Congress has projected a united front for the upcoming polls.
4. The party also wants to showcase the appointment of Punjab's first Dalit CM in its efforts to reach out to Dalits in other states. The party may also try to leverage this in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.
Following the announcement, Channi said, “This is a great fight. I can’t do it alone. I can only fight for the CM position with the people of Punjab."
The Punjab Assembly elections will be held in a single phase on 20 February, the results of which will be declared on 10 March.