In an obvious embarrassment for the Congress ahead of announcement of its chief minister's face for Punjab Assembly polls, former state unit party chief Sunil Jakhar, a prominent Hindu face, has spilled beans by saying Navjot Sidhu and Charanjit Channi were least favoured as the Chief Minister's probable after Capt Amarinder Singh's exit.He said he was the first choice with 42 of the 79 legislators favoured his name, replacing incumbent Capt Amarinder Singh in last September.Jakhar's assertions come at a time when the party is conducting an opinion tele-survey on who should the Congress nominate as its CM candidate. The race is hot between Channi, state's first Dalit Chief Minister, and Sidhu, a Jat Sikh.Seeking votes for his nephew Sandeep Jakhar, the third generation who is in the fray from Abohar in Fazilka district, the stronghold of Jakhars for five decades, the former Congress chief said Chief Minister Charanjit Channi was preferred by only two legislators in an internal survey by the party based on telephonic conversation.In a video Jakhar was heard saying the Congress high command had asked all 79 of the party's Punjab MLAs to give their preference for the chief ministerial post after Captain Amarinder Singh resigned.
"Sunil Jakhar was favoured by 42 MLAs, Sukhjinder Randhawa got 16 votes and Preneet Kaur got support of 12 MLAs. Navjot Sidhu and Charanjit Singh Channi were liked by six and two MLAs, respectively," Jakhar said."Despite being denied the top post, I am very happy that most MLAs trusted me. This is what I have earned in my career. I do not hold the post but the MLAs were in my favour," he added.With last week's assurance by former Congress president Rahul Gandhi that workers will decide well ahead of the February 20 polling, a power struggle is on between Sidhu and Channi to be the chief ministerial candidate.Currently, voters have been getting tele-calls to give their opinion as to who should the Congress nominate as its chief ministerial candidate. Those receiving the calls are also being asked whether Congress should reveal the name or not.Political observers told IANS that it will be a tough task for the party high command to choose Channi, a Dalit Sikh, or Sidhu, a Jat Sikh, in a state with a population caste mix of roughly 32 per cent Dalits, 30 per cent Jat Sikhs and 40 per cent the rest.
"Most of the cabinet ministers and top leaders are standing behind Channi owing to his soft approach, easy accessibility and the most important, the biggest Dalit face. If the high command projects Sidhu as the chief minister's face, it could upset the party's Dalit vote bank," a senior Congress leader told IANS, requesting anonymity."The crucial challenge against Sidhu is that he's neither a Congress veteran nor enjoys a mass base. He was selected to lead the party at a time when the anti-incumbency of Amarinder Singh was at its peak. Sidhu helped greatly in overcoming the anger against the government by attacking its policies," he said."Now after building an image of transferring power from the elite to the poor, the party can't ignore Channi's claim at this stage," the Congress leader added.In a bid to woo Dalit voters, Channi is contesting the polls from two reserved constituencies Bhadaur in Barnala district and his pocket borough Chamkaur Sahib in Ropar district.Seeing his growing influence and stature, the Chief Minister has been given the second seat Bhadaur to counter the dominance of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Barnala and its adjoining areas in Malwa region by consolidating the Scheduled Caste votes.