Behind-the-scene drama: How Sidhu scotched Jakhar’s & Randhawa’s chance before agreeing on Channi

Behind-the-scene drama: How Sidhu scotched Jakhar’s & Randhawa’s chance before agreeing on Channi

Congress Sunday appointed Charanjit Singh Channi as the new Punjab CM but it wasn't a unanimous decision and left several unhappy faces within the party.

Chamkaur Sahib MLA Charanjit Singh Channi | File photo: Twitter | @CHARANJITCHANNI

Chamkaur Sahib MLA Charanjit Singh Channi | File photo: Twitter | @CHARANJITCHANNI

Chandigarh: It was a tumultuous day in Punjab as the Congress high command met to decide on the new Punjab CM but was unable to reach a consensus.

The party’s decision to appoint Charanjit Singh Channi as the chief minister came as a surprise and left several unhappy faces.

The seeds of discontent were sown Saturday evening during the Congress legislative party meeting in Chandigarh where instead of announcing Captain Amarinder Singh’s successor, it was announced that the decision to name the next CM would be taken by party supremo Sonia Gandhi.

Hectic lobbying

Several Congress leaders ThePrint spoke to said that former state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar was in the reckoning for chief minister’s post but some leaders objected to it.

“The name of former PPCC chief Sunil Jakhar was at the top, though Sukhjinder Randhawa, Partap Singh Bajwa and Charanjit Channi were in the race too. The name of a Hindu CM in Jakhar was being supported by the Navjot Singh Sidhu camp as well in order to counter Amarinder’s constant bid to scare the Hindu voter,” said a senior Congress leader.

Another leader claimed that preparations were underway to oust Amarinder since last month but it was felt that if Jakhar’s name is announced as the next CM, he will have to contest polls ahead of the next year’s assembly elections because he is not an MLA.

So the plan was postponed by a month, the leader said.

“Cabinet minister Brahm Mohindra who belongs to Amarinder’s camp said he too was a contender as he was among the senior-most leaders. Speaker Rana K.P. too staked claim. Then it was decided late last (Saturday) night that instead of Jakhar, senior Congress leader Ambika Soni’s name should be finalised. A consensus seemed to have emerged on her name,” added the senior Congress leader quoted above.

Soni, however, met Rahul Gandhi and declined the party’s offer. She said she believes the “Punjab CM face should be a Sikh”.

Soni’s refusal triggered a fresh round of hectic lobbying and by Sunday morning a full blown tussle for the chair erupted between Sidhu and Randhawa, both Jat Sikhs.

When Sidhu came to know that MLAs had started reaching Jakhar’s house in Panchkula with bouquets, he reportedly objected to it.

“Sidhu objected to Jakhar’s name and asked that he be made CM. Randhawa who had been harbouring an ambition to become CM ever since he managed to muster almost 40 MLAs against Amarinder, put forth a counterclaim. Sidhu objected to Randhawa’s name. He, however, agreed to a Dalit Sikh face instead of a Jat Sikh face. Sidhu felt that if another strong Jat Sikh is made CM he would stake claim to the CM seat even after the elections and that would leave him nowhere,” said an MLA who was following the day’s developments closely.

After several hours of deliberations, it was finally decided that since Randhawa had the support of more MLAs than Sidhu, he be made the CM. “At this point, Sidhu is said to have barged out of the meeting in a huff,” the MLA added.

Also read: Punjab’s next CM? Sidhu’s social media team is working hard to create that image

Channi’s name springs surprise

The day-long drama seemed to have ended with Randhawa’s name having been finalised. MLAs and ministers who had first gone with bouquets to Jakhar started making a beeline for Randhawa’s residence. But as an official announcement was awaited two more names — cabinet minister Charanjit Singh Channi and Dr Amar Singh, MP from Fatehgarh Sahib — (both Dalit leaders) cropped up.

Sources said that state finance minister Manpreet Badal had some role to play in the last-minute change.

“Manpreet understands Akali politics well and there are chances that he felt that Akalis were gaining ground in collaboration with the BSP and a Dalit CM as an interim arrangement would be a good bet. There is a possibility that he might have impressed upon the high command to consider a Dalit CM face,” said a senior Congress leader.

Channi who was waiting with a bouquet at Randhawa’s house to congratulate him and had given up all hope was in for a surprise when his name was announced by Harish Rawat.

“Channi first went with Rawat to the Governor’s house to stake a claim as CM and later the first person he met was Manpreet, who is also his next-door neighbour. The rest, as they say, is history,” said the MLA.

Also read: Why Channi is new Punjab CM — Congress eyeing large Dalit vote bank, peace between factions