Former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar hit out at Harish Rawat, the party’s state-in-charge, this morning, questioning his support of Navjot Sidhu (and of his leadership role ahead of next year’s election) hours before Charanjit Channi was sworn in as the new Chief Minister.
Mr Jakhar, whom sources indicated was briefly considered as Amarinder Singh’s replacement, said Mr Rawat’s statement – that the party would contest the election under Sidhu – was “baffling”.
“On the swearing-in day of Charanjit Channi as Chief Minister, Mr Rawat’s statement that “elections will be fought under Sidhu”, is baffling. It is likely to undermine the Chief Minister’s (designate) authority but also negate the very ‘raison d’etre’ of his selection for this position,” he tweeted.
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.
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) September 20, 2021
“Harish Rawat’s statement is weakening the party… it is time to strengthen Channi, so this statement is not correct. (Party) has made it clear both Sidhu and Channi will be faces of the party,” he told NDTV.
He congratulated Mr Channi and his deputies (OP Soni and Sukhjinder Randhawa), and praised Rahul Gandhi for good measure: “Rahulji raised his stature even more by making Channi Chief Minister.”
Mr Jakhar also told NDTV: “I was not in the race (to be named Chief Minister)”, but dismissed suggestions he was not considered because he is not a Sikh.
Rajya Sabha MP Ambika Soni, widely viewed as the Congress’ first choice for the hot seat, earlier warned Mr Gandhi of the “ramifications” of a non-Sikh Punjab Chief Minister ahead of the election.
“People saying I am not a Sikh…. but when I was President of the state unit and legislature party, where was this question? I was not in the race… I am not even a MLA,” Mr Jakhar insisted.
On Sunday, after announcing Mr Channi as the new leader of the party’s legislature body, Mr Rawat told news agency ANI next year’s election would be fought under Mr Sidhu, who is presently the Congress’s state chief; Mr Rawat called the former cricketer “very popular”.
“It (the party’s chief ministerial candidate) will be decided by the Congress president, but given the circumstances, the election will be fought with the Chief Minister’s cabinet (and) under the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, whose chief is Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is very popular,” he said.
Mr Rawat also said Mr Channi’s nomination had been unanimously approved – something the Congress wanted, so as to ensure maximum internal support for the new Chief Minister.
Sunil Jakhar, sources had said, was in the running to be that new Chief Minister.
He earlier tweeted in effusive praise of Rahul Gandhi – extolling his “bold leadership” after he called for a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party, or CLP, in the wake of Amarinder Singh’s resignation.
Amarinder Singh’s resignation came after a prolonged and bitter stand-off with Navjot Sidhu. Their feud dates to the 2017 election; Mr Sidhu hoped to be Deputy Chief Minister but was denied by Mr Singh.
The outgoing Technical Education minister, Charanjit Channi will be Punjab’s first Dalit Sikh Chief Minister when he is sworn in at 11 am. The MLA from Rupnagar’s Chamkaur Sahib constituency, he was chosen for the state’s top job after a “humiliated” Amarinder Singh quit on Saturday.
Sceptics have put Mr Channi’s elevation down to vote bank mathematics; he will be Chief Minister in a poll-bound state where Dalits are an estimated 31 per cent of the population. That the Akali Dal has joined with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party likely also played a role in the Congress’ decision.
With input from ANI