New Delhi: 

Charanjit Singh Channi was sworn in as Punjab’s new Chief Minister today after Amarinder Singh’s dramatic weekend resignation just four months before an election in the state. Punjab’s first Dalit Sikh Chief Minister took charge with two deputies, both carefully chosen to fortify the Congress’s poll arithmetic – Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Om Prakash Soni.

Rahul Gandhi attended the oath ceremony — contrary to earlier reports that he would not — making an exception given the tumultuous circumstances of the Punjab switch. He has faced heavy criticism over his handling of the Punjab Congress crisis, raging for the past six months because of the ceaseless feud between Amarinder Singh and Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.

Just before the new Chief Minister’s takeover, a top Punjab Congress leader’s tweet made it clear that the transition would not be as smooth as the party would hope.

Former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, who was briefly considered for the top post, hit out at a comment by the party’s Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat in support of Navjot Sidhu.

“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.

Mr Channi, 58, a three-time MLA and a minister in the Amarinder Singh cabinet, is known to be close to Mr Sidhu.

But the perception that he is a place-holder for Mr Sidhu has spurred attacks from rival parties of an “insult to Dalit Sikhs” in Punjab.

Mr Channi was chosen after much back-and-forth on Sunday that saw at least two more candidates edged out of the race. The party’s first pick, Ambika Soni, reportedly turned down the offer in a late-night meeting with Rahul Gandhi; she reportedly stressed on the ramifications of a non-Sikh Chief Minister as the Congress seeks re-election.

The Congress is betting on the vote of Dalits, constituting around 31 per cent of Punjab’s population. However, the community has never voted cohesively for any one leader in the past.

After months of bickering with Mr Sidhu and other rebels, Amarinder Singh or “Captain” resigned on Saturday after the Congress called a sudden meeting of MLAs without informing him. He called Congress resident Sonia Gandhi and told her he felt humiliated for the third time this year. that though he had resigned, he would not accept Mr Sidhu as the party’s face for the Punjab polls.

The Captain has refused to reveal his plans, and his answers to questions on his future in the Congress have been ominous for the party. In the past, he had formed his own outfit before returning to the Congress.

Reports suggest Sonia Gandhi, who is currently in Shimla in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh, may meet with Mr Singh to try and mollify him.

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