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X-Factor Not Ex-Factor: Scare for Sidhu as Charanjit Channi May Well be Here to Stay Come 2022

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Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, Punjab’s most educated minister, is slowly stepping out of Navjot Singh Sidhu’s shadow to endear himself to the public with his humble origin story and vision for the state.

X-Factor Not Ex-Factor: Scare for Sidhu as Charanjit Channi May Well be Here to Stay Come 2022

Masters in Political Science, an MBA, a law graduate and now doing a PhD, that too on the Indian National Congress. Punjab’s new Chief Minister, Charanjit Singh Channi, is not only the most educated minister in Punjab but is also now being seen as the X-factor for the Congress ahead of 2022 polls.

Travel from Chandigarh to Patiala, Sangrur, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Amritsar, Channi now stares at you from every poster on the road. Some say the move has been late on the part of the Congress, replacing Captain Amarinder Singh with Channi just five months before elections amid heavy anti-incumbency, unlike the BJP which did so in other states well in advance.

But others say Channi, an ‘accidental CM’ by all means, is the party’s best bet to return to power. If it does, Channi may well be here to stay. “How will anyone remove a poor, educated Dalit face as CM if Congress wins?” a senior party leader in Punjab asked.

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Channi’s Three Pitches
News18.com was at an ITI Kapurthala event on Wednesday which was in news only for Channi’s bhangra dance with students. But his 30-minute speech there, his first as CM, was key as he laid out his humble background and his vision for Punjab. “I have a roadmap to take Punjab ahead. I have been preparing it for a while,” Channi said, mentioning how he will not tolerate bribery or corruption and will set things right on that front within five months. “Either I will go, or corruption will go. Call me if someone asks you for a bribe,” Channi said.
Channi made three clear pitches in his speech. First, he recalled Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s humble beginnings and focus on education to compare his own humble start. “I took inspiration from Ambedkar, and like him strengthened myself throughout life. I never paid fee in school due to reservation, then got a waiver to pay just Rs 26 yearly fee in college as I played handball from sports quota and later got Rs 150 monthly stipend at university. I did my BA, then law, then MA in Political Science, then MBA and now I am doing a PhD on Indian National Congress,” he said.
Channi, in fact, said the day he took oath, he sat with his teacher from 2 am to 3 am to work on his PhD thesis, which he wants to submit by December. On posters in Punjab, the educational qualifications of Channi find mention with a line “doing Ph.D…”
The second pitch was that he is a common man, unlike Captain or Akali Dal’s Sukhbir Badal. Like PM Narendra Modi, Channi says he’s ‘Mukhya Sevadar’ (prime servant of the people). “I can never put my phone on silent. It is always on. I was also shocked the day I took over to find 1,000 men in my security ring and 200 luxury cars — some costing Rs 2 crore and as big as my room. I don’t want all this and have asked my security to be reduced to 5-10 men. Who will harm or kill me? Am I Sukhbir Badal that I have to carry so much security? Badal has no public support so opts for that big a convoy,” Channi said.

The third pitch was rolling out his vision in a short time. Channi said he wants to create 1 lakh government jobs within five months, stop the contentious outsourcing of jobs in the state, focus big on education and “take Punjab ahead”. Those close to him say Channi has also asked for a plan to scrap the contentious Power Purchase Agreements signed by the erstwhile Badal government and wants to proceed with action in the sacrilege cases and drug abuse cases against the big names.

The buzz on the ground is that even if Channi can deliver on 2-3 big bang promises, he will be a hit. “Cheap power promise will soon be rolled out. The new CM has already waived all pending electricity and water bills of the poor,” a Punjab government official told News18.com.

Channi’s Challenge: Sidhu & Time

However, Channi has time as his biggest adversary as five months is hardly enough to effect any big change. “Five months will be over before Channi realises what a CM has to do,” a senior Akali Dal leader argued.

Another challenge is pan-state acceptability as the 19 percent Jat Sikh population in Punjab may not take kindly to a Dalit Sikh face becoming CM. In the last elections, a Jat Sikh face in Captain Amarinder Singh could rally all sections of the society. Channi and Navjot Singh Sidhu both come from Punjab’s Malwa region while the two deputy CMs come from the Majha region. Punjab’s Doaba region has been left out of the big picture, an omission that may need to be compensated in the cabinet revamp.

Channi’s biggest challenge may, however, be his own state party president and claimant to the CM’s chair come 2022, Navjot Singh Sidhu. So far the impression in political circles is of an over-bearing Sidhu acting as ‘super CM’, something that former Congress state chief Sunil Jakhar has flagged to the Gandhis and in public.

Sidhu had objected to a Jat Sikh face in Sukhjinder Randhawa being chosen as CM, perhaps foreseeing that a strong face like Randhawa may not make way for him in 2022 if the party wins. Sidhu, in fact, wanted MLA Amar Singh, who was once his personal assistant, to be chosen CM. Channi was hence the compromise choice after Manpreet Badal suggested his name and Sidhu concurred.

However, word in political corridors now is that Sidhu might have been check-mated here with Channi coming into his own and endearing himself to the people with his words and actions in the initial days. Channi also has a good equation with Rahul Gandhi and the party seems pleased with the national message it has sent.

If Congress manages to win Punjab despite all odds, Channi is a new X-factor.​

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