Days after Captain Amarinder Singh was replaced with Charanjit Singh Channi as the chief minister, Congress’s Punjab in charge Harish Rawat in an interview with News18 said Singh is a senior leader and could be accommodated within the party, provided he “takes initiative”. Rawat says he believes appointing Channi was a “good move” and it has left a big impact on Dalit voters across north India.
The former Uttarakhand CM asserted that he would like to see a Dalit chief minister in the hill state too. In an apparent reference to Uttar Pradesh, the veteran Congress leader said not only Dalits but Brahmins too have become closer to the party. There was a time when Congress appointed several Brahmin CMs, he pointed out. The Congress needs to work hard towards making an ‘Akhand Bharat’ where all communities and caste could get due representation.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Has the power struggle come to a halt in Punjab?
There is no power struggle anymore in Punjab. The situation is normal after Charanjit Singh Channi took over as the chief minister. There are few “self-interest groups”, which are trying to create differences between Sidhu and Channi, although both are together.
Who are those creating differences as you said?
There are big stakeholders in Punjab. Some are outsiders, some are former Congressmen with vested interests.
Amarinder Singh has said he will not remain in Congress but technically he is still the party member. Has the Congress decided on his fate?
We respect Captain Amarinder Singh. We have clarified after Singh had alleged humiliation. Whatever political developments took shape (in Punjab), they were only to make things better. We had kept Singh in loop of every decision. Many MLAs were concerned about their electoral prospects and they demanded for a Congress Legislative Party meeting. The party has no option but to convene a meeting. Singh did not attend the meeting and preferred to submit the resignation to the governor. Now, it is up to the Singh to meet Congress president and discuss (about the future course of action). There is no dearth of ‘assignments’ for Singh but it’s for him to decide and initiate.
So, are you giving an olive branch to Captain?
Yes, there is no ending for possibilities in politics.
In poll-bound Uttarakhand, three MLAs, including one Independent and the other from Congress joined BJP. Does this hurt Congress?
No, it doesn’t. Interestingly, we are happy that we now have a clear slate. Congress MLA who joined BJP was not winning as per our internal survey. Similarly, the two Independents after joining BJP have given us a clear edge as we now know the complex equations.
You have said after Punjab you would like to see a Dalit CM in Uttarakhand. Opposition parties say it is just a political gossip?
Traditionally, Dalits had remained with the Congress. However, northern India’s UP and adjoining parts remained an exception where the Dalits got swayed by the Hindutva narrative in the last few years. But now they are disenchanted by the BJP as the very basic issues of the community have not been resolved. As far as giving prominence to Dalits is concerned, we have a Dalit CM in a state like Punjab, which is not a normal political development. I intended to see a Dalit CM in the upper caste dominated Uttarakhand. This will give a strong message of social harmony.
But the BJP questions your intention. Yashpal Arya who was till today the minister in the BJP government and was also the Congress president when it came to power in 2012. Why was he not appointed the CM then?
There could have been a different situation in 2012 and I am not aware. But at present, the political atmosphere is quite distinct where Dalits and several other backward communities like Lodhi, Bari, Baghel are feeling neglected. BJP’s politics goes against the interests of OBCs and Dalits. Therefore, we feel ‘weaker sections’ should be given prominence.
Rahul, Priyanka Gandhi have extensively toured Uttar Pradesh. Whether this will help the Congress in getting Dalit votes as you claimed after the Punjab fiasco?
Dalits and Congress share a strong bond. Brahmins also shared a strong bond. There was a time when Congress gave several Brahmin chief ministers. Now they (Brahmins) have to look forward to parties (BSP) to get a ticket. Where are minorities today? In UP, the Congress use to give them (minorities) ample representation. We need to work hard towards making an ‘Akhand Bharat’ where all communities and caste get due representation.