New Delhi: Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu will both serve as the party’s face in the 2022 assembly polls, party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala announced Monday.
“Charanjit Singh Channi is our CM. Navjot Singh Sidhu is our PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) chief. Both will be our faces,” said Congress chief spokesperson Surjewala in a press conference at the party’s headquarters in Delhi, just hours after Channi was sworn in as CM.
The announcement comes a day after Harish Rawat, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge for Punjab, created a furore among party ranks after he appeared to suggest that Sidhu will be the party’s face for the polls.
“It (Congress’ face for upcoming state assembly polls) will be decided by the Congress president, but given the circumstances, elections will be fought with the Chief Minister’s cabinet under Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, whose chief is Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is very popular,” Rawat told ANI Sunday.
In response, former PCC chief Sunil Jakhar hit out at Rawat Monday, calling his statement “baffling” and something that could undermine the authority of the CM.
“On the swearing-in day of Sh @Charnjit_channi as Chief Minister, Mr Rawats’s statement that ‘elections will be fought under Sidhu’, is baffling. It’s likely to undermine CM’s authority but also negate the very ‘raison d’être’ of his selection for this position,” Jakhar wrote in a tweet.
However, Surjewala called this a misinterpretation.
“I just spoke to Harish Rawat ji minutes ago. Many friends are misreading his statement. Our face will be Channi and Sidhu both, and the ordinary Congress workers and leaders who will be supporting them. If anyone says one or the other will be the face intentionally or otherwise, it is a misinterpretation,” he said.
‘Will open doors of empowerment for Dalits’
At the press meet, Surjewala also said Channi’s appointment as Punjab’s first Dalit CM had created history.
“Congress has carved out a new chapter in India’s history by appointing a Dalit leader as the CM of Punjab,” he said.
“It is a matter of great pride for every poor and disadvantaged Dalit of this country that this singular decision will fortify social justice… and will open new doors of empowerment for the disadvantaged sections of our populace,” added Surjewala.
The Congress leader further said this proved Rahul Gandhi’s belief that “the doors to the echelons of power need to be opened for the poorest of the poor”.
He also noted that Channi, after his swearing-in ceremony, announced the waiver of outstanding electricity and water bills of the poor.
‘Challenge to BSP-SAD and BJP’
Surjewala attacked the BJP and former Uttar Pradesh CM Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for criticising Channi’s appointment.
At a press conference Monday, Mayawati had lashed out at the Congress, calling the appointment an “election stunt”.
“Making him chief minister just before the elections, shows that it is just their hollow election stunt,” Mayawati said.
“I have come to know through media that, in Punjab, the upcoming Vidhan Sabha election would be contested under leadership of a non-Dalit, which makes it clear that Congress still does not trust Dalits. The Dalits should be cautious about their double standards and double face,” she added.
The BJP termed Channi’s appointment an attempt to capture the Dalit vote bank. “This is an old habit of the Congress. It believes that it can capture Dalit vote bank by making a Dalit chief minister for a few months. A conspiracy is being hatched in Punjab to grab Dalit vote bank,” said party general secretary Dushyant Kumar Gautam.
Surjewala, in response, hit out at the BJP and asked why the party had not appointed a single Dalit CM in any of the 12 states that it governs.
He also challenged the BSP, which is in alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab, to announce a Dalit CM candidate. “I will ask Mayawati ji to announce a Dalit CM face in its alliance with the SAD. It is a challenge,” said Surjewala.
(Edited by Rachel John)