Churning in Punjab Congress ahead of by-poll; Leaders placate former CM Channi

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Churning in Punjab Congress ahead of by-poll; Leaders placate former CM Channi

Friday, 07 April 2023 | Monika Malik | Chandigarh

Amidst rumours of former Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Punjab Congress leaders, led by state party affairs in-charge Harish Chaudhary, and state president Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, met the senior Dalit leader Channi a day before, asking him to join the party campaign for Jalandhar parliamentary byelections.
Channi, a prominent Dalit leader, was picked by the Congress party as a replacement of political stalwart Capt Amarinder Singh to head the State Government, following the latter’s unceremonious exit. The party went on to lay its bet on Channi to be the party’s face for the 2022 state assembly polls — paying the Dalit card.
Even as the Congress was restricted to 18 seats out of a total of 117, the party won five out of total nine assembly segments falling under Jalandhar Lok Sabha constituency, while the remaining four were bagged by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). It was believed that the Congress’ performance in Jalandhar, predominately a Dalit segment, was because the party had named Channi as its Chief Ministerial candidate.
In fact, before the Congress had announced the name of Karamjit Kaur Chaudhary as its candidate for Jalandhar Lok Sabha by-election, Channi was also in the race for the party ticket.
Notably, despite being the party’s face in 2022 polls, Channi faced resounding defeats in his home constituency, Chamkaur Sahib, and also from another assembly segment, Bhadaur, he contested. Away from active politics after election results, Channi was reportedly eyeing Jalandhar seat as a means of rehabilitation. Moreover, he had been visiting the constituency, including significant religious places — especially the ones related to the Dalits, over the past few months.
But, the Congress choose Karamjit Kaur — the widow of former MP Chaudhary Santokh Singh whose death necessitated the bypoll — hoping to capitalize on the “sympathy factor”. Prominent Dalit leader and Jalandhar MP had suffered a cardiac arrest at the age of 76 while participating in the Jalandhar leg of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in January, and died.
Confident of retaining the seat, Congress is mainly banking on the “sympathy factor”. Jalandhar would be nothing less than a prestige battle for the grand old party, as the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had announced the name of former Congress MLA Sushil Kumar Rinku as its candidate on Thursday, a day after he switched loyalties.
Moreover, Jalandhar parliamentary constituency has been a Congress stronghold since 1952, with the party not losing any election here since 1999.
Now, leaving no stone unturned, the party wanted to take Channi on board. Chaudhary and Warring, along with senior leader Capt Sandeep Sandhu, met Channi at his residence, requesting him to join the party’s elections campaign — considering that that party is eyeing a win which would eventually act as the much-needed morale booster ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
It was believed that Channi was little upset after the party high command ignored his claims on the seat. However, it is believed the senior leaders, who met Channi on Wednesday, prevailed upon him and persuaded him to join the poll campaigning.
In the 2019 parliamentary polls, the Congress had won eight of the 13 seats in Punjab, with Shiromani Akali Dal getting two, the BJP two, and AAP just one. While Chaudhary Santokh Singh’s death has brought the Congress tally down to seven, AAP’s loss in Sangrur to SAD (Amritsar) Simranjit Singh Mann has left it without a parliamentary berth in Punjab.
The voting for Jalandhar Lok Sabha bypoll will take place on May 10, and the result will be declared on May 13.
Day After He Joined, AAP Names Rinku as its Candidate

A day after Sushil Kumar Rinku joined AAP, the former Congress MLA from Jalandhar West was officially announced as the ruling party’s candidate for Jalandhar Lok Sabha bypoll on Thursday. The announcement came within 24 hours of switching loyalties from Congress to AAP.
Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann and AAP’s national convenor Arvind Kejriwal had inducted Rinku into AAP on Wednesday. It is believed that AAP was not able to find a suitable candidate from within the party, and thus it worked on taking Rinku — a prominent and known face in the segment — on board.
Jalandhar bypoll are crucial for the ruling AAP, as it had already lost Sangrur byelection, within three months of coming to power. The defeat was embarrassing as it came few months after the party’s resounding victory in Punjab, and that too in the Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s home constituency.
In 2012, Rinku contested his first assembly elections from Jalandhar West Assembly constituency but was defeated by BJP’s Mahinder Pal Bhagat — son of three-time MLA and former Minister Bhagat Chuni Lal, by a margin of over 17,000 votes. In 2017, Rinku won the segment riding on Congress’ wave; however, in 2022 election, Rinku once again faced defeat by AAP candidate Sheetal Angural by a margin of 4,254 votes.
Rinku;s induction in AAP was strongly opposed by Angural, but the party leadership persuaded  upon him. It has been learnt that Angural’s brother Rajan Angural was also eyeing the party ticket. But considering Rinku’s strong stronghold among the SC communities and being a grassroot leaders, AAP chose him as its candidate.

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