Charanjit Singh Channi
Punjab CM-designate Charanjit Singh Channi speaks to the media after meeting Governor Banwarilal Purohit, in Chandigarh on Sunday, September 19, 2021. Image Credit: ANI

Chandigarh: In a tactical move to retain Punjab in the next Assembly elections in early 2022, the Congress on Sunday appointed Dalit leader and three consecutive term legislator Charanjit Singh Channi as the next Chief Minister, replacing veteran Amarinder Singh.

After meeting Governor Banwarilal Purohit here to stake claim to form the next government, Channi, accompanied by state party President Navjot Singh Sidhu, told the media that he would take the oath as the Chief Minister on Monday at 11am.

“We have presented our stance, unanimously supported by party MLAs, before the Governor,” he added.

Channi, 49, the legislator from Chamkaur Sahib, is the first Dalit Chief Minister and the youngest to be at the helm in the state. He belongs to the Ramdasia community.

With his appointment, the Congress is trying to woo the Dalit vote, comprising 32 per cent, ahead of the Assembly polls slated in March 2022.

Channi, a Cabinet minister in the present government, was leading from the front to demand the removal of Amarinder Singh as the government has failed to meet the aspirations of the people and even failed to implement the 2017 Assembly poll promises.

Outgoing Chief Minister Amarinder Singh was among the first to greet Channi when party General Secretary in charge of the state Harish Rawat made the formal announcement on his appointment in the evening, ending a day-long suspense over the new incumbent.

Amarinder Singh on Saturday stepped down as the Chief Minister saying he “felt humiliated”.

Earlier in the day, Cabinet minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa’s name was doing the rounds for the next Chief Minister.

Seeming miffed at not being chosen as the next Chief Minister, Randhawa told the media: “It’s the high command’s decision...I welcome it. Channi is like my younger brother...I am not at all disappointed.”

“The people who get disappointed are the ones who never saw power. I have seen power since my father’s time. Channi is my younger brother and I welcome the decision taken by high command,” he added.

“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,” party leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted.

A day after he quit as Chief Minister after being humiliated by the party amid the Punjab Congress crisis, Amarinder Singh on Sunday expressed sorrow at having to cancel the scheduled disbursement of appointment letters to families of 150 farmers who had lost their lives in the ongoing agitation against the farm laws.

He said that with the new CM-designate already announced, he would unfortunately not be able to personally hand over job letters to the next of kin of the deceased farmers even though his council of ministers had already accorded approval to the proposal. He hoped the new Chief Minister would carry out the task at the earliest to provide relief to the affected families.

Amarinder Singh urged Channi to ensure that the state government continues to stand with the beleaguered farmers of Punjab, “who have sacrificed their lives in our collective fight for justice”.

He made it clear that he would continue to support the farmers in their battle for survival and justice.

“Every Punjabi, in fact every Indian, is morally bound to stand with the farmers in their hour of despair,” he said, asserting that even though he was no longer holding the state’s reins, his heart remained with the farmers and their families and he would do everything in his power to ensure that they get their due.