The INC high command had decided to ignore the clamour in Punjab Congress to declare a chief ministerial candidate for assembly election the next month, with many senior leaders throwing their weight behind Charanjit Singh Channi, the state’s first chief minister touted as a Dalit while people say he is a Christian. Though the party high command has so far maintained that the party will fight the 20 February election to the 117-member assembly under a “collective leadership”, many leaders in its state unit are seeking that the air surrounding the issue be cleared at the earliest.
The party had declared its chief ministerial candidate ahead of the elections in 2012 and 2017, senior leader and minister Brahm Mohindra said, adding that Channi had proved himself in the role in just three months. “There should not be any confusion in the party about announcing the chief ministerial candidate when there is already one who has proved himself beyond everybody’s expectations,” he said.
Channi became chief minister last year after Capt Amarinder Singh was made to resign from the post by the INC.
The clamour on the issue grows in Punjab Congress in the backdrop of the Aam Aadmi Party, which is emerging as a strong contender for the polls, declaring its MP and state unit chief Bhagwant Mann as its chief ministerial candidate.
The Shiromani Akali Dal, which has been the INC’s main rival, may not have formally named its candidate for the chief minister’s post, but its president Sukhbir Singh Badal is the likely choice.
The need to declare a chief ministerial candidate becomes more important for the Congress as the AAP had named Bhagwant Mann as its candidate, while the SAD are projecting Sukhbir Badal for the post, Mohindra said.
Mohindra’s cabinet colleague Rana Gurjeet Singh has thrown his weight behind Channi too, putting a question mark on his continuation as chief minister, after the party came back to power, could prove suicidal.
“Channi has done an exceedingly outstanding job in just three months,” Rana Gurjeet Singh said.
Cabinet minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Shahkot MLA Hardev Singh Laddi Sherowalia are backing the idea of having Channi as chief minister if the party succeeded in the polls.
However, having been briefed by the high command, INC’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said in Chandigarh this week, “Sidhu ji Punjab Congress ke sardar hain (Navjot Singh Sidhu is Punjab Congress chief), Channi ji government ke sardar hain (Channi is chief minister), and we will contest elections under collective leadership.”
A survey ‘Who should be the CM face of the Congress in Punjab?’ on Twitter by Nikhil Alva, an aide of former INC president Rahul Gandhi, shows that Channi is the choice with a maximum of 68.7% of the total 1,283 voters in the survey responding in his favour.
While this may not be a party survey, it also showed that 11.5% of voters batted for Sidhu followed by 9.3% in favour of Sunil Jakhar while 10.4% said there was no need for a chief ministerial candidate.
The INC on 17 January shared a short video, showing actor Sonu Sood, whose sister is contesting on a party ticket from Moga, saying “the real CM” will be the one who deserves to be at the post and not that person who declares himself to be the chief ministerial candidate.
The 36-second video on Twitter, retweeted by Punjab Congress, ends with visuals of Channi at different programmes and events.
Even Channi had recently said that the INC high command should declare its chief ministerial candidate and pointed out that it had been seen in the past that doing so had allowed the party reap electoral gains.