From being elected president of a municipal council to being handpicked as first Dalit chief minister of Punjab, Charanjit Singh Channi has seen a meteoric rise in the last two decades.
The 58-year-old three-time legislator from Chamkaur Sahib assembly constituency in Rupnagar district had joined the Congress in 2012 and was holding the portfolios of Technical Education, Industrial Training, Employment Generation and Tourism and Cultural Affairs in the outgoing Amarinder Singh-led cabinet.
He had along with three other ministers rebelled against Amarinder Singh while choosing to side with the camp of state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu. With barely five months left for the assembly polls, the announcement of a Dalit face as chief minister by the Congress assumes significance as Dalits constitute nearly 32 percent of the state's population. The Doaba region - Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, SBS Nagar and Kapurthala districts - has the highest population of Dalits.
The Shiromani Akali Dal, which has joined hands with the BSP, has already announced that the deputy chief minister post will be given to a Dalit if it wins the assemby polls, while the Aam Admi Party too is sensing a victory as its rivals remain in disarray. Though Channi appears to be a surprise choice, it can be a calculated gamble by the party which is hoping that there might not be public opposition from leaders in the faction-ridden party to the naming of a Dalit for the post and it may contain the damage from the unsavoury exit of Amarinder Singh.
Channi along with three other ministers - Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria - and a section of MLAs had last month raised a banner of revolt against Amarinder Singh, saying they have no faith in his ability to honour the unfulfilled promises. He has been a vocal critic of the government on the issues related to Dalits like representation of Scheduled Caste in senior government posts.
His political journey began with being elected as the president of the Kharar municipal council in 2002. He first contested as an Independent in 2007 and won from Chamkaur Sahib Assembly constituency. He joined the Congress in 2012 and was again elected as legislator from the same seat.
During his ministerial tenure, Channi was at the centre of a row after a woman IAS officer had accused him of sending an inappropriate text message in 2018. Thereafter, the Punjab Women Commission had taken suo motu cognisance of the matter and had sought the government's stand.
At that time, the then Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had asked Channi to tender an apology to the woman officer and had also said he believed the matter had been "resolved" to her satisfaction. But the issue again came to haunt Channi in May this year when the women panel chief threatened to go on a hunger strike if the state government failed to apprise her within a week of its stand on an "inappropriate text" message issue.
But Sidhu's camp had alleged that it was an attempt by Amarinder Singh to target his detractors. In 2018, Channi again courted controversy when he was purportedly caught on camera flipping a coin to decide between two candidates for the post of lecturer in a polytechnic institute, leaving the Amarinder Singh government red-faced.
A lecturer from Nabha and another from Patiala had both wanted to be posted at a government polytechnic institute in Patiala. Channi had once got a road constructed outside his official residence to have east-facing entry to his house and it was later razed by the Chandigarh administration.
He was the leader of opposition in the Punjab Assembly during the previous SAD-BJP regime.
First Published: IST