Sukhjinder Randhawa, OP Soni Appointed Punjab Deputy CMs: Who Are They?
Congress had decided that there would be two deputy CMs in Punjab, from Jat Sikh and Hindu communities respectively.
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Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Om Prakash Soni were sworn in as the Deputy Chief Ministers of Punjab at the Raj Bhawan in Chandigarh on Monday, 20 September, after Charanjit Singh Channi took oath as the 16th Chief Minister of Punjab.
Earlier, Congress had decided that there would be two deputy chief ministers in the Punjab government, one from the Jat Sikh community and the other from the Hindu community.
Randhawa's name was doing the rounds for the Punjab chief ministers post after Amarinder Singh put in his papers on Saturday, 18 September. According to The Indian Express, Randhawa may be allotted an important department.
Initially, OP Soni's name was not among the three Hindu community probables being considered for the post. According to ANI, Brahm Singh Mohindra (MLA from Patiala rural), Vijay Inder Singla (MLA from Sangrur), Bharat Bhushan Ashu (Punjab Food, Civil Supplies, and Consumer Affairs Minister) were being considered. However, Soni was sworn in as one of the deputy chief ministers on Monday morning.
We take a closer look at the two men.
Sukhjinder Randhawa: Punjab's New Deputy Chief Minister, Who Almost Became CM
"Randhawa sahab is a true leader. He has worked very hard and always remained loyal to the party. In this area you won't find many people who haven't benefitted from his work," says Sarabjit Billa Massey a sarpanch from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district.
A Congress functionary for nearly three decades, Massey has worked closely with Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, who is the new deputy chief minister of Punjab.
"Because of his strength, we have been able to keep the Akalis at bay in this region and AAP also hasn't grown," he added.
Massey's village is barely a few hundred meters from where the Kartarpur Sahib corridor begins.
Adorning Massey's drawing room is a picture of him from 20 years ago, with Sukhjinder Randhawa and Captain Amarinder Singh during Captain's first term as CM in 2002.
When the picture was taken, hardly anyone have predicted that two decades later, Randhawa would play a key role in Captain's removal as CM of Punjab.
Sukhjinder Randhawa, 62, was born in Dharowali village in Dera Baba Nanak tehsil. His father Santokh Singh was also a Congress leader and became president of the Punjab Congress twice.
Randhawa won his first election in 2002 from the Fatehgarh Churian seat in Gurdaspur district. However, he lost in 2007. In 2012, he won from the newly created Dera Baba Nanak seat, which he won again in 2017. He is a Cabinet minister in the Punjab government holding the portfolios of jails and cooperatives.
Randhawa is one part of a powerful trio in the Punjab Congress, with the other two members being Fatehgarh Churian MLA Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Raja Sansi MLA Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria. As all three are from the Majha region in the North Western part of Punjab, they came to be known as the "Majha Express".
They played a key role in backing up Captain against his rival Partap Singh Bajwa, who is also from Qadian in the Majha region.
In 2016, they were instrumental in getting the Congress leadership to make Captain the Punjab Congress chief, paving the way for his second term as CM. Not surprisingly, all three leaders became ministers in Captain's government.
How Randhawa Fell Out With Captain
The falling out with Captain began less than a year into Captain's tenure. In August 2017, 33 MLAs wrote a letter to the CM demanding an inquiry against Bikram Singh Majithia on the allegations of drug trafficking against him.
Serial number one in the list of 33 MLAs was "Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, MLA Dera Baba Nanak".
The gap between Captain and the Majha trio kept growing in the subsequent years but they didn't openly rebel, unlike Navjot Singh Sidhu who resigned from his ministership.
"Captain stopped listening to MLAs and ministers. It became difficult to get work done for the people," said a functionary close to Randhawa.
However, earlier this year Randhawa did say that the time may have come for a change.
The turning point was when the Punjab and Haryana High Court rejecting the SIT report on the Bargari sacrilege case and Kotkapura firing that had taken place during the Akali-BJP tenure.
Soon after that, Randhawa and those close to him realised that Captain had become a liability and they would lose support among Sikh voters if they contested under his leadership.
That's when they began actively backing Sidhu.
Sidhu May Have Been the Face of the Anti-Captain Camp, Randhawa was the Brain
Sidhu became a useful face and voice for the anti-Captain camp after the SIT report fell. The leaders knew that Sidhu both had a state wide appeal and had the ear of the party high command, especially Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
However, while Sidhu may have been the public face of the rebellion, the brain was Randhawa and his close associates. Several of the meetings in the run-up to Sidhu's appointment as Punjab Congress chief and finally Captain's removal, were held at Randhawa's home.
Their support helped Sidhu gain legitimacy among MLAs. Otherwise he only had Pargat Singh and a handful of others on his side.
As Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Bajwa, Sarkaria, Charanjit Singh Channi and a few others began speaking to more and more MLAs, they explained how it would be difficult to win under Captain's leadership.
Their view found resonance particularly among MLAs representing predominantly Sikh seats. On the other hand, Captain did continue to enjoy the support of Hindu MLAs like Vijay Inder Singh, Brahm Mohindra and MP Manish Tewari.
However, that didn't help and the number of MLAs loyal to Captain kept reducing, especially after Sidhu became the Punjab Congress chief.
Many saw the writing on the wall and changed sides. Others decided they would "do whatever the high command advises".
Captain too didn't help matters by his own inaction.
But even when Captain's resignation was imminent, there were rumours that he could dissolve the Assembly or split the Congress. Randhawa and his supporters had to once again spring into action and prevent any last ditch attempt by Captain.
Captain needed 22 MLAs to bring the Congress to a minority. Randhawa, Sidhu and other camp members reached out to the MLAs to thwart Captain. In the end, Captain fell short of 22 by at least 10.
Having masterminded the rebellion, Randhawa had the support of more MLAs and gained the upper hand over rivals like Partap Singh Bajwa and Sunil Jakhar, who had kept a distance from the revolt against Captain.
However, he faced opposition from Sidhu, who didn't want another Jatt Sikh leader from a Majha constitiuency like himself to become CM.
The Congress high command too was keen on making a Dalit CM and that's where Charanjit Singh Channi came into the picture pipping Randhawa to the post.
Om Prakash Soni: Punjab's Other New Deputy Chief Minister
Om Prakash Soni started his political career in 1997 when he became an MLA from the Amritsar West constituency and was re-elected in 2002 and 2007. He successfully contested from Amritsar Central constituency in 2012 and was re-elected in 2017 as well.
The 64-year-old Soni also became a Cabinet minister in the Punjab government, where he headed the Medical Education and Research department.
(With Inputs from The Indian Express and ANI)
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