Punjab gets its first Dalit CM: Who is Charanjit Singh Channi and how these controversies trouble him?

The Congress party has picked up a new captain to lead Punjab, after the resignation of Amarinder Singh that was triggered by an apparent political turmoil in the state. Singh had tendered his resignation as the Chief Minister on Saturday and slammed the Congress high command for humiliating him. For the past few weeks, Amarinder Singh and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was made the Punjab Congress chief, had been locking horns and several MLAs had written to Sonia Gandhi to recall Singh and replace him. 

The change of guard in Punjab had come when the state is just five months ahead of the assembly polls. On Sunday, a day after the resignation of Amarinder Singh, the Congress party had taken everyone into surprise by playing a Dalit card for the first time in the state after appointing Charanjit Singh Channi as the next Chief Minister of Punjab. Another surprising move from the party was that the state will have two Deputy Chief Ministers and all of these names weren't on the list of probables. 

Charanjit Singh Channi has sworn in as the 16th Chief Minister of Punjab on Monday and he also became the first Dalit Sikh Chief Minister of the state. He was unanimously elected as the leader of the Congress legislative party in Punjab on Sunday. All India Congress Committee General Secretary Harish Rawat said in a tweet on Sunday, "It gives me immense pleasure to announce that Charanjit Singh Channi has been unanimously elected as the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party of Punjab." 

Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit had administered the oath of office to Channi in the swearing-in ceremony that was held at Raj Bhavan on Monday. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Punjab Congress Chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, state in-charge Harish Rawat, and senior party leader Sunil Jakhar were present in the ceremony. Jakhar was leading the race for the Chief Minister that was won by Charanjit Singh Channi. Being known to be close to Sidhu, Channi had served as a minister in the cabinet of Amarinder Singh. 

Through elevating Channi to the top post, Congress aims to have him as a trump card for the upcoming assembly polls. His appointment has drawn more significance as Punjab has a population of nearly 32 per cent of Dalits. Congress leaders Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and OP Soni had also taken oath as the Deputy Chief Ministers of Punjab and it has been reported that Channi's cabinet will be assuming office in two days. 

58-year-old Channi was the three-time legislator and joined the Congress in 2012. He has been representing the Chamkur Sahib assembly constituency and he had served as the Minister of Technical Education and Industrial Training in Amarinder Singh's cabinet. Following Channi's takeover, Amarinder Singh said, "My best wishes to Charanjit Singh Channi. I hope he's able to keep the border state of Punjab safe and protect our people from the growing security threat from across the border." 

Channi's political journey had begun in 1992 when he got elected as a Kharar councillor and was then elected as the President of the Kharar municipal council in 2002. He had first contested as an Independent in 2007 and won from Chamkaur Sahib constituency and he then joined the Congress party in 2012 and was again elected as legislator from the same seat. He then got re-elected in 2017 for the third time and he was the Leader of Opposition in the Punjab Assembly during the previous BJP-SAD regime. 

In 2017, he was made a minister and during his ministerial tenure, he ran into outrage in 2018 after a woman IAS officer had accused him of sexual misconduct after he allegedly sent an inappropriate text message. The matter had stirred massive resentment across the state and the Punjab Women Commission had taken suo moto cognisance of the matter. The then Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had urged Channi to tender an apology to the woman bureaucrat. However, he has failed to apologize and this issue had troubled Channi as the women panel chief had on May this year threatened to go on a hunger strike if the state government failed to disclose its stand on the matter to her within a week. 

In 2018, Channi had invited another controversy when he was caught on camera tossing a coin to decide between two candidates for the post of lecturer in a polytechnic college institute in Patiala. Channi had begun supporting Sidhu and rebelled against Amarinder Singh and his elevation to the Chief Minister post has come when the Punjab-based Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) party had announced that it will provide the Deputy Chief Minister post to a Dalit if it wins the assembly polls. The BJP had also made a similar announcement to woo the Dalit votes. 

Channi had addressed the reporters after becoming the Chief Minister during which he said that the Punjab government stands with the farmers and appealed to the Union government to repeal the three farm laws. Channi had gone emotional during the press meet and said that Congress has made a common man the Chief Minister. In what has become the first announcement as the Chief Minister, Channi said, "We will waive water and electricity bills of farmers." He added, "The party is supreme, not the CM or the cabinet. The government will work as per the party's ideology". 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had congratulated Channi for his elevation. The Prime Minister took to social media and wrote, "Congratulations to Shri Charanjit Singh Channi Ji on being sworn-in as Punjab’s Chief Minister. Will continue to work with the Punjab government for the betterment of the people of Punjab." Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said, "Congratulations to Shri Charanjit Singh Channi Ji for the new responsibility. We must continue to fulfil the promises made to the people of Punjab. Their trust is of paramount importance."