Till some months ago, Charanjit Singh Channi was just another minister in Amarinder Singh’s Congress government. And when the party decided to replace the veteran leader as the chief minister in Punjab, Channi wasn’t even in the list of obvious front-runners.
But after the Congress made the surprise decision, Channi took to his new role as CM with enthusiasm, announcing sops, featuring in full-page newspaper advertisements and even participating in a game of hockey.
Though Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu, who played a major role in Amarinder Singh’s ouster, continued with his pitch to be declared the party CM’s face as the assembly polls neared, the Congress picked Channi.
His credentials as Punjab’s first Dalit CM appeared to help. Over 30 per cent of the state’s population is Dalit.
The Congress fielded Channi from two seats — Chamkaur Sahib in Rupnagar and Bhadaur in Barnala, a move which showed how much the Congress was banking on him. He lost from both, and the party received a drubbing from the Aam Aadmi Party.
Channi, who appeared to come from nowhere to centre stage for about four months, is now headed back to relative obscurity.
Born in Bhajauli village in Kharar in 1963, Channi stepped into politics in 1992 when he was elected a councillor. In 2003, he became the president of the Kharar municipal council. He made it to the state assembly as an independent MLA from Chamkaur Sahib in 2007.
He won the same seat in 2012, but this time on a Congress ticket. He later became Leader of Opposition in the House.
After being elected as an MLA for the third time in a row in 2017, he found a berth in Amarinder Singh’s ministry. He held the portfolios of Technical Education, Industrial Training, Employment Generation and Tourism and Cultural Affairs.
When the Congress faced infighting in the state last year, Channi and three other ministers rebelled against Amarinder Singh, choosing to side with state unit president Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Channi never missed a chance to highlight his “humble background”, but there is nothing humble about his education.
He has a BA degree, followed by an LLB from Panjab University and an MBA from Punjab Technical University. He is now going for a PhD from PU Chandigarh.
As a minister in the Amarinder Singh government, Channi was at the centre of a row in 2018. An IAS officer accused him of sending an inappropriate text message to her.
Channi told the media that he sent the message unintentially, and had apologised to the official.
Controversy dogged him during the recent election campaign as well.
The Enforcement Directorate raided his nephew’s premises. Channi categorically denied any link in his relative’s case and his party accused the BJP-led Centre of misusing the agency.
And then there was the security breach which forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to return to Delhi without addressing a political rally in Ferozepur, after his convoy was blocked by protesting farmers.
The Centre put the blame on the state government headed by Channi.
He came under fire for his ‘UP de bhaiye’ remark, seen by many as a derogatory reference to migrants from other states.
Before the elections were declared, Channi had been a CM for 111 days – a term marked by populist announcements as the state headed into the elections.
These included the slashing of power tariff and making cable tv, and even sand, cheaper.
He projected himself as a politician who could identify with the masses. ‘Ghar ghar chali gal, Channi karda masle hal,’ was a catchphrase coined by him.
Roughly translated, it means, “It’s the talk of the town — Channi solves problems.” His rivals claimed it was all just talk. But Channi once said, “I am not ‘ailaanjeet’ (one who only makes announcements). I am ‘Vishwasjeet’ (one who has won the people’s trust).” Not enough, it would seem for the Congress to make a mark in the election.