New Delhi: 

Former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar hit out at Harish Rawat, the party’s state-in-charge, this morning, questioning his statement in support of Navjot Singh Sidhu (and his leadership role ahead of next year’s election) hours before Charanjit Channi is sworn in as the new Chief Minister.

Mr Jakhar, whom sources had indicated was briefly considered as Amarinder Singh’s replacement, said he found Mr Rawat’s statement that “‘elections will be fought under Sidhu’ baffling” and warned that it could undermine the authority of Chief Minister-in-waiting Channi.

“On the swearing-in day of Charanjit Channi as Chief Minister, Mr Rawat’s statement that “elections will be fought under Sidhu”, is baffling. It is likely to undermine the Chief Minister’s (designate) authority but also negate the very ‘raison d’etre’ of his selection for this position,” he tweeted.

On Sunday, after announcing Mr Channi as the new leader of the party’s legislature body, Mr Rawat also told news agency ANI that next year’s election will be fought under Mr Sidhu, who is presently the Congress’s state chief; Mr Rawat called the former cricketer “very popular”.

“It (the party’s chief ministerial candidate) will be decided by the Congress president, but given the circumstances, the election will be fought with the Chief Minister’s cabinet (and) under the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, whose chief is Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is very popular,” he said.

Mr Rawat also said Mr Channi’s nomination had been unanimously approved – something the Congress wanted, so as to ensure maximum internal support for the new Chief Minister.

Sunil Jakhar, sources had said, was in the running to be that new Chief Minister. 

He earlier tweeted in effusive praise of Rahul Gandhi – extolling his “bold leadership” after he called for a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party, or CLP, in the wake of Amarinder Singh’s resignation.

Amarinder Singh’s resignation came after a prolonged and bitter stand-off with Navjot Sidhu. Their feud dates to the 2017 election; Mr Sidhu hoped to be Deputy Chief Minister but was denied by Mr Singh.

The rift escalated sharply in recent weeks and a tenuous truce unravelled after statements by Mr Sidhu’s advisers. Last month, fresh complaints against Mr Singh set the stage for this drama.

The outgoing Technical Education minister, Charanjit Channi will be Punjab’s first Dalit Sikh Chief Minister when he is sworn in at 11 am. The MLA from Rupnagar’s Chamkaur Sahib constituency, he was chosen for the state’s top job after a “humiliated” Amarinder Singh quit on Saturday.

Sceptics have put Mr Channi’s elevation down to vote bank mathematics; he will be Chief Minister in a poll-bound state where Dalits are an estimated 31 per cent of the population. That the Akali Dal has joined with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party likely also played a role in the Congress’ decision.

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