Chandigarh: Charanjit Singh Channi, who was sworn in as Punjab chief minister today, faces the uphill task of taking along all communities and castes in the state. Especially, the powerful Jats.
In the 2017 elections, the Congress, led by Amarinder Singh, a Jat, could muster only 28 per cent of the votes polled by the community. The Akali-BJP combine raked in the most with 37 per cent while the Aam Aadmi Party pooled 30 per cent and others the rest.
Among the OBC Sikh the Congress received 37 per cent of the votes polled, 41 per cent of Dalit Sikh votes and 43 per cent from the Hindu Dalits. But it did not reflect on the tally of 77 seats the party won. Three legislators from the Aam Aadmi Party later defected to the Congress, hiking its tally to 80.
Of the 80 Congress legislators at present, 32 are Jats and 23 belong to the SC category. The Jats comprise nearly 25 per cent of the population in Punjab.
“Channi is known for taking people of all communities and castes together in his Chamkaur Saheb constituency. But to replicate his way of functioning in the entire state will take a lot of doing. Voices will be raised soon over his handling of the upper castes if he concentrates only on Dalits,” a Jat Congress leader who was in Amarinder’s cabinet, warned.
So far, Channi has announced sops like a ban on cutting electricity connections for those who have not been able to pay bills, reduction in power tariff and firmly dealing with the sand-mafia.
“The new Punjab chief minister’s major test will come on how he tackles the Jat-led farmers’ stir in the state. They have ruled the state since its inception. Amarinder was clueless. He tried to wriggle out by trying to explain how the stir was hurting Punjab’s economy. The poor have been the worst-hit and they belong to all castes and communities. It is only once the entire cabinet is formed and meets, his policies will be revealed,” a Congress party office-bearer felt.
Another factor the Jat community, both Hindu and Sikh, have been closely monitoring since Channi’s name was announced as chief minister yesterday, is his choice of officers. Whether the pro-Jat lobby under Amarinder is retained or not is being closely monitored.
After having been at the helm of affairs for years, the Jats, both within the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress, fear that with a Dalit at the helm of affairs, the community’s influence in governance may gradually wane.
“A Jat could get most of his work done simply for being a Jat. There will be Jats in the cabinet now. But the real power wrests in the chief minister and he is Dalit. While we have nothing against Dalits, Channi will do well if resists annoying a community that only knows how to rule,” a Shiromani Akali Dal leader explained.
For the Jats, it is a wait and watch policy at the moment. For Channi, the mantra will be to take them with him and emerge victorious in the forthcoming assembly polls and keep the daggers sheathed.
Paramjit Singh Kainth, President of the National Scheduled Castes Alliance, summed it best.
Calling Channi’s elevation as Punjab chief minister, Kainth said “After 74 years of Independence and Punjab, the state with the highest Scheduled Castes in India, has finally been able to welcome a SC politician as the new chief minister. Emotions are high and so are the expectations. I hope he is able to knit together the fragmented social fabric of the state which has been suffering from incompetence and discrimination against the SCs and other backward groups.”