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HomePoliticsAmarinder Singh scaremongering about Pakistani drones dropping bombs & weapons: CM Channi

Amarinder Singh scaremongering about Pakistani drones dropping bombs & weapons: CM Channi

In an interview with ThePrint, Punjab CM Channi says this election is about 'faces', not parties.

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Chandigarh: Captain Amarinder Singh is “scaring” the people of Punjab “unnecessarily” by constantly talking about national security, Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has said. He has also rejected his predecessor’s claims about Pakistan using drones to drop tiffin-box bombs, weapons and drugs into the border state.

“Captain saheb is scaring people all day by talking about national security. If you are the CM and keep scaring your own state, how will it work? Unnecessarily….tiffin bombs will come… drone bombs will come… This is useless talk. Nothing is coming (from Pakistan). There is nothing to fear,” CM Channi said in an interview with ThePrint.

Captain Amarinder Singh has made national security his poll plank after quitting the Congress and launching his own political outfit, the Punjab Lok Congress, to contest the election in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

He has, however, been raising red flags about Pakistan’s subversive intents in Punjab since his chief ministerial days when Channi was a part of his cabinet. Channi became an accidental CM last September after the Gandhis forced the Captain to resign as the CM and quit the party so as to mollycoddle Navjot Singh Sidhu, the ambitious and irrepressible Punjab Congress chief.

The Congress high-command had to settle on Channi as a consensus choice for Amarinder Singh’s successor.

Sidhu used to lead the pack of Amarinder Singh’s detractors — which included Channi — but ran foul of them once their oust-the-Captain mission was accomplished with blessings from the Gandhi siblings, Rahul and Priyanka.

In a short tenure as CM though, Charanjit Singh Channi has surprised everyone with his political acumen. He doesn’t project himself as a Dalit leader, even though many of his party colleagues think he could be an X factor in this election, given that he is the first Dalit CM in a state where every third person is a Dalit.

“I am not an X factor (in Punjab election). I am a simple man who works for the people,” Channi told ThePrint, playing down talks about a possible ‘Dalit consolidation’ in favour of the Congress. “I don’t look at voters as Hindus, Sikhs or Dalits. I look at voters as voters. A poor person is poor, no matter which class or community he belongs to,” he said.

The new Punjab CM, who is doing a PhD on the Congress from Panjab University, has got many faculty members impressed with his conduct as a vintage Congress politician. So, when Professor Ronki Ram, a noted scholar of Dalit studies in Punjab, led a delegation of Panjab University teachers to meet Channi to press their demand for UGC pay scales in line with the Seventh Pay Commission, the CM touched Ram’s feet, creating a buzz in academic circles. The Ram-led teachers’ demand remains unmet though.

Also read: Malwa, Majha, Doaba: Divided by rivers, each Punjab region has distinct political identity

‘A middle-class man, working for the poor’

In the largely inclusive political culture of Punjab, Channi has shown a sharp political acumen by not projecting himself as a Dalit leader, which could, in Congress’ assessment, potentially antagonise the privileged and propertied Jatt Sikhs who have dominated the state’s social-economic-political sphere.

He would rather project himself as a man from a middle-class family who struggled to rise up the ladder and who works for the poor in general.

He was, therefore, dismissive when ThePrint asked him if the Congress’ decision to give Punjab its first Dalit CM would lead to Dalit consolidation in favour of the ruling party. Even so, he certainly knows how a Dalit CM could have changed Punjab’s electoral discourse.

“There are many issues, but now it’s about the face — who is the face of which party and who can take Punjab forward? It will not be an election of parties, it will be an election of faces (between him and Parkash Singh/Sukhbir Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal and Bhagwant Mann of the Aam Aadmi Party),” Channi told ThePrint.

Badal and Mann are Jatt Sikhs. The Punjab CM spent the night before the Republic Day at the Dera Sachkhand Ballan, which has significant following among Ad-dharmi/Ravidasia (SC) groups.

The new Punjab CM is assiduously crafting his image as a man who is seeking to bring relief to every section of the society: “I have worked very hard in three-and-a-half months. People have liked it.”

Also read: Three factors that are keeping Punjabi politicians on edge

Distancing himself from Amarinder Singh

With Captain Amarinder Singh — who ruled the state for about four-and-a-half years as the Congress CM — joining the opposition camp, Channi got just 111 days in the CM’s office to make a difference. “BJP has taken over those four years…. Let the BJP handle it. People are looking at the BJP, ‘What have you done?’.”

“The same government whose coffers were empty, has given Rs 33,000 crore to the people in three months. We have waived electricity dues and reduced power tariff… have reduced water tariff and waived outstanding dues…. Have reduced the prices of petrol and diesel… have distributed Rs 33,000 crore among the people in three months,” he said.

For a CM who must distance himself from his predecessor, under whom he was a minister for four-and-a-half years, Channi’s job is cut out. He is at pains to explain how he couldn’t be judged by what his predecessor did or didn’t.

“Any government runs through the leader’s will power. If the CM himself doesn’t want to work, how will things work (down the system)? Without the CM, a minister has no ‘haisiyat (authority)’ to work. An MLA can’t do anything without the CM. Everything depends on what the CM wants, whether he works or not, whether he meets people or not, and what his ideology is.”

‘Have all respect for PM’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi having to cancel his rally in Ferozepur due to a security breach in his convoy route had triggered a national controversy. But CM Channi remains unfazed: “There was no security lapse during PM Modi’s visit. There was no danger.”

The shrewd politician that he is, Channi is quite diplomatic about this episode: “When one has to go back sometimes, one does get angry. We have all respect for the Prime Minister.”

The Punjab CM may be holding recitals of the Guru Granth Sahib at his residence before going on the campaign trail, but he maintains a confident demeanour: “There will be no hung verdict. People of Punjab are very intelligent. They voted one way even the last time (in 2017). It’s looking like a multi-cornered contest but only one party will come.”

Punjab will go to polls on 20 February and results will be announced on 10 March, but Channi’s immediate concern has to be who Rahul Gandhi declares the party’s CM face in this election.

Tell him that the Congress may “probably” be thinking of sticking to the Dalit card, however, and ask him if what Sidhu would do he is declared the CM candidate, and, with a straight face, he refuses to respond “as long as there is ‘probably’ and ‘if'”.

Listen to his measured responses and watch his calm demeanour. Charanjit Singh Channi may be an accidental chief minister, but he’s not an accidental politician, for sure.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Desperate Punjab had a dream. This is how AAP took it away


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