Punjab: Charanjit Singh to become first Dalit CM, where 32% of population belong to Dalits

Congress’s Charanjit Singh Channi is set to become the first chief minister from the Dalit community in Punjab, where 31.9% of the population hails from the Dalit community.

The All India Congress Committee (AICC) in charge of Punjab affairs Harish Rawat announced the name of the new Punjab Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader on Twitter. “It gives me immense pleasure to announce that Sh. #CharanjitSinghChanni has been unanimously elected as the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party of Punjab,” he said.

Soon after being elected as CLP leader, Channi along with other party leaders met Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit to stake claim to form the new government.

Channi, a close aide of State PCC president Navjot Singh Sidhu, was one among the Cabinet ministers in the outgoing government, who rebelled against Amarinder Singh, saying the latter had not fulfilled the party’s 2017 poll promises.

A three-time MLA, Channi, was the leader of opposition in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha from 2015 to 2016 and he hails from the Ramdasia Sikh community.

The Congress’ decision of choosing 58-year-old Channi is being seen as an attempt to win over the Dalit votes ahead of the Assembly polls due in early 2022.

Of the approximately 3 crore state population, nearly one-third of them, 31.9%, are Dalits as per the 2011 Census. This makes Punjab the state with the highest percentage of Dalits in the country.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has already announced that if voted to power, the deputy chief minister would be from the Dalit community. Shiromani Akali Dal, a Jatt dominated party, stitched an alliance with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) for state assembly polls due early next year.

Most of the Chief Ministers in Punjab so far have been from the dominant Jat Sikh community.

“The decision would benefit the Congress as it will help to garner support in Dalit community. But eventually it’s a stop-gap arrangement and the face of the campaign for 2022 polls would be Navjot Singh Sidhu. While the opposition parties such as Akali Dal has announced to appoint of deputy Chief Minister on assuming power, but here the Congress has taken a bold step to declare a Dalit as the Chief Minister, which will give the party an edge,” Ashutosh Kumar, professor with political science department of Punjab University told The Hindu newspaper.

Political analyst Khalid Mohammad is of the view that Channi is not known as an influential Dalit leader within the party and outside, The Wire reported.