New Delhi: Former Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi, who has been abroad for the past several months and missing from the political scene, has decided to “devote time exclusively to studies for his PhD thesis” on the Congress — the party he led to an embarrassing poll defeat early this year.
Channi, the first Dalit leader to become the Punjab chief minister, had left India around two months after the Assembly poll results on 10 March, leaving his party colleagues clueless about his future plans.
He has for long been pursuing PhD studies from Panjab University on the topic ‘Indian National Congress central organisation and electoral strategy since 2004’, said Congress sources.
“In Punjab, he is always occupied in politics and does not get time for studies. He is currently in the US, and has decided to devote time exclusively to studies for his PhD thesis, which he wants to complete soon. But, he also has plans to return to India next month,” Channi’s younger brother Manohar Singh told ThePrint over phone Tuesday.
Channi’s appointment as the chief minister in September 2021 was seen as masterstroke by the Gandhis that would help the Congress regain its lost base among the Dalits across India. But the gambit failed, with the party losing the polls and Channi himself losing on both the seats he contested from.
He did attend the first few Congress meetings that went on for a month after the party’s loss in the polls, senior party leaders told ThePrint.
According to Congress sources, it was on 3 May (Eid) that Channi was last seen attending a public event in Punjab. He is learnt to have left India around a week after that with his wife Kamaljit Kaur.
Since then, he has been absent from Punjab’s politics, mostly shuttling between the US and Canada, staying with his relatives and friends.
At least two senior Congress leaders said Channi has gone into a sort of “political exile”, citing several reasons for it — from his defeat in the state elections, to being dragged into investigations concerning alleged illegal mining, and being given no official position in the party’s Punjab unit.
Currently, the Congress is on a 150-day political campaign, Bharat Jodo Yatra, which started from Tamil Nadu on 7 September and shall move northward through Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Jammu.
“The yatra has a planned coverage of 13 days in Punjab in its last leg. We are not sure if Channi is going to be there. I have no idea what he is up to currently,” said Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, who was deputy to the former Punjab CM.
On Wednesday, ThePrint reached out to Channi through text messages, but he did not respond.
Pursuing academics with politics
As a politician, Channi is not new to academic pursuits. According to his affidavit with the Election Commission, Channi first graduated in Arts and followed it with LLB from Panjab University. Between 2007 and 2009, when he was an Independent MLA from Chamkaur Sahib, Channi pursued an MBA in human resources from Punjab Technical University.
In 2012, he was elected as an MLA from the same seat as a Congress candidate. The next year, he enrolled for a Master of Arts degree in the political science department at Panjab University.
“When he was pursuing MA studies, he once had an exam and it coincided with a meeting in Delhi with Rahul Gandhi. Mr Gandhi was so impressed by his determination that he offered him his helicopter to appear for the exam and return the same day,” said a Congress leader close to Channi.
Channi replaced Amarinder Singh at the top post in Punjab, and was named the Congress’ CM candidate by Rahul Gandhi weeks before this year’s state election. The announcement came at a time when infighting within the Congress was no longer a closed-door affair, and Channi was facing strong resistance from Navjot Singh Sidhu, who too was in the race to be the party’s CM candidate.
On 10 March, the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won the Punjab polls, bagging 92 of 117 Assembly seats — seemingly riding on a wave for ‘badlaav’ (change) — leaving the Congress with just 18, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) three and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) two.
Channi had contested from Chamkaur Sahib and Bhadaur. He lost both to AAP candidates by a margin of 37,558 votes in Bhadaur, and his home turf Chamkaur Sahib by 7,942 votes.
Last month, Channi had dismissed as “rumours” speculations about his “political exile”. The Congress leader had said he was in the US on a “private visit” but also mentioned that he was there for “treatment”, and claimed he would return soon, without mentioning specific dates. “There is no FIR or summons against me. I am abroad for my medical treatment and will be back soon,” he told The Tribune over phone.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)