From the Viewsroom

Surgical strike in Punjab

Poornima Joshi | Updated on September 20, 2021

Appointing a Dalit CM, a clever social engineering move

The Congress central leadership has made a strategically effective move in easing out the increasingly unpopular Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh and installing a seasoned Dalit leader, Chanranjit Singh Channi, in his stead. To have a Dalit Chief Minister for the first time in a State with 32 per cent SC vote, is a clever exercise in social engineering. It balances caste equations with two Jatt Sikhs in Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa as State Congress chief and Deputy CM respectively. OP Soni as the second Deputy CM is the Hindu representation in the State Cabinet.

Although a “humiliated” Amarinder Singh will remain a thorn on the Congress’s side, his inaccessibility as also the brazen disregard towards the two main planks that facilitated his return to power in 2017 would have hurt the party. These are: one, to move against the Shiromani Akali Dal leadership in the case of firing against protestors who were raising the issue of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib, and second, tackling the drug menace in Punjab.

The appointment of Channi effectively rules out future contenders for fear of being seen as anti-Dalit in an election year. Channi is an MLA from Chamkaur Sahib in the Malwa region, which accounts for 69 Assembly seats. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has since made inroads here, while the SAD has aligned with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to woo the Dalits and is trying to get past its association with the BJP which is almost invisible in Punjab after the passage of the three farm laws. The farm protest has its origins in Punjab and if it had not been for factionalism in the Congress, it would have been home and dry in this agrarian State. Channi’s anointment establishes some order in this chaos.

A larger message from this is that the Congress high command can actually be shrewd and decisive. It has not wilted away yet.

Published on September 20, 2021

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