'2022 Punjab polls under Sidhu': Congress in damage control as opposition questions dalit CM 'gimmick'

2 months ago 25

NEW DELHI: The Congress party's decision to install Charanjit Singh Channi as the first dalit chief minister of Punjab ahead of 2022 assembly elections appears to be a calculated move given the fact that the community constitutes approximately 31% of the state's population.
The Congress completed the caste balancing act by appointing two deputy chief ministers -- Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, a Sikh and and O P Soni, a Hindu, perhaps keeping in mind the tough electoral challenge it faces from the Aam Aadmi Party.
The electoral importance of dalits can be gauged by the fact that SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, who has entered into an alliance with Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, had announced in June that if their alliance wins, the deputy chief minister would be from the community.
However, even before Channi could start his new innings, a reported statement by a senior Congress leader gave the opposition enough ammunition to cast doubts on the grand old party's real intentions in playing the dalit card.
A reported statement by Harish Rawat, who is the party incharge of Punjab, that the 2022 assembly elections will be fought under Navjot Singh Sidhu, triggered a controversy and put the Congress on the backfoot.
'Baffling statement, undermines Channi's authority'
Ironically, the first salvo was from within. The former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar questioned Rawat over his statement.
"On the swearing-in day of Charnjit Channi as chief minister, Rawat'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 tweeted.
Election stunt, says Mayawati
The opposition was quick to latch on to Rawat's statement. Both the BJP and the BSP questioned Congress's motives in making Channi the chief minister.
Mayawati called it an “election stunt” of the Congress and asked dalits of Punjabs to be wary of the move.
Attacking the Congress, she said, “It still does not have faith in Dalits. Dalits need to be very alert to their double standards. I have full faith that dalits of Punjab will not fall for this stunt."
“The reality is that Congress and other political parties think of Dalits only in times of crisis,” Mayawati charged.
"It would have been better had Channi been appointed the chief minister earlier. His appointment as CM a few months ahead of Punjab assembly elections looks like a poll gimmick," BSP chief Mayawati said.
"I also came to know from the media that the next assembly polls in Punjab would be contested under leadership of a non-dalit. This means that the Congress still does not fully trust Dalits," she claimed.
'Channi only a night watchman'
The BJP alleged that the Congress made Charanjit Singh Channi Punjab chief minister for a few months merely to grab dalit votes as part of its conspiracy.
Amit Malviya, BJP's IT cell national incharge, tweeted, "This is a huge insult to the entire dalit community if Charanjit Singh Channi has been made the chief minister, only to hold the seat for Navjot Singh Sidhu, the chosen Gandhi family loyalist. This completely undermines the dalit empowerment narrative being peddled by the Congress. Shame."
"Dalits are now mere political pawns in Congress' devious politics. In Punjab, they claim to have made a dalit CM, only to be posted as a night watchman till Gandhi family loyalist Sidhu takes over. But maintains deafening silence over lynching of a dalit youth in Rajasthan," Malviya said.

Dalits are now mere political pawns in Congress’s devious politics.In Punjab, they claim to have made a Dalit CM,… https://t.co/eABHX3b1tN

— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) 1632123630000

'Congress a repeat offender'
"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," BJP general secretary Dushyant Kumar Gautam said.
He noted that the Congress had made Dalit leader Sushil Kumar Shinde Maharashtra chief minister in 2003 but replaced him with Vilasrao Deshmukh when it won the 2004 assembly election.
Similarly, he said, the Congress had made Jagannath Pahadia Rajasthan's chief minister in 1980 but removed him in over a year.
Gautam, also a dalit leader, alleged that the Congress has resorted to this tactic often and claimed that it often used former deputy prime minister Jagjivan Ram to get the votes of the community but "insulted" him and even removed him from the party when it came to giving him his due.
The Congress also never gave B R Ambedkar Bharat Ratna or made memorial in his name or did anything to preserve his memory, the BJP leader claimed.
Echoing the view, another dalit leader of the BJP and party secretary Vinod Sonkar, said the Congress has again exhibited its "false love" for Dalits.
"If the Congress is sincere, then it should assure people that Channi will remain the chief minister if its wins the next assembly polls," he said.
Congress clarifies
Under attack from several quarters, the Congress was forced to go into damage control.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the next Punjab assembly elections will be fought under the leadership of both Channi and Sidhu.
"Our faces will be Charanjit Singh Channi and Navjot Singh Sidhu as also ordinary Congress workers and leaders who will be supporting them. If anybody says one or the other will be the face, intentionally or otherwise, it is being misinterpreted by the media," Surjewala told reporters.
He attacked the BJP, Akali Dal, BSP and Aam Aadmi Party for insulting a dalit chief minister.
The Congress spokesperson also questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP leadership why they had not named any dalit as their chief minister and why they and other leaders of BSP, AAP and Akali Dal were undermining the young Congress Dalit leader.
"I want to tell all our friends in the media, please, you also do not grudge the young Dalit leader and the role assigned him as chief minister of Punjab. He will be our face along with Navjot Singh Sidhu which is natural," he said alleging that Rawat's statement has been misinterpreted.
"We urge the BJP, Akali Dal, BSP and AAP to stop insulting Dalits and spread lies about them," Surjewala said.
(With inputs from agencies)

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