Congress leader Charanjit Singh Channi on Monday took oath as the chief minister of Punjab.

Channi, 58, is Punjab’s first Dalit chief minister. He is an MLA from the Chamkaur Sahib constituency and has also served as the state’s technical education minister. Channi is considered close to state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Sidhu attended Channi’s swearing-in ceremony at the Raj Bhawan in Chandigarh.

Congress leaders OP Soni and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa were appointed as deputies to Channi, NDTV reported.

Soon after being sworn-in, Channi expressed his support for the farmers protesting against the Centre’s three agricultural laws, ANI reported. He promised to waive their electricity and water bills.

“We appeal to the Centre to withdraw the three farm laws,” he added.

Channi also praised his predecessor Amarinder Singh. “Captain Amarinder Singh did a lot of good work for the people of Punjab,” he added. “We will take forward his work.”

The Congress on Sunday chose Channi to lead Punjab, a day after Singh stepped down as the chief minister. Singh resigned just months before the Punjab Assembly elections, which are likely to take place in February or March next year.

Singh quit the top post after a long-running tussle with Sidhu. The turf war between them goes back to June 2019, when the latter was a minister in the state government.

At the time, Singh had divested Sidhu of the key portfolios of local government, tourism and cultural affairs and allotted him power and new and renewable energy sources instead. Subsequently, Sidhu submitted his resignation as Cabinet minister on July 15, 2019.

Sidhu has consistently criticised Singh for allegedly not fulfilling his election promises and the delay in bringing the perpetrators of the 2015 sacrilege case to justice. Sikh religious text Guru Granth Sahib had been desecrated at Bargari in Faridkot in 2015.

Singh, after resigning as the chief minister on Saturday, said he had felt humiliated.

“I was humiliated three times... they [the Congress] do not have confidence in me... now up to them to appoint anyone they trust,” he had said.

In a letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi before resigning, Singh said that he did his best as the chief minister of a state with “many geo-political and other internal security concerns”.

The former Punjab chief minister said he had tried to handle these matters effectively without any compromises. “[I am] happy that [the] state remained fully peaceful, with complete communal harmony,” he said.

Meanwhile, Singh on Sunday wished Channi on his elevation to the chief minister’s post.

“I hope he’s [Channi] able to keep the border state of Punjab safe and protect our people from the growing security threat from across the border,” Singh was quoted as saying by his media advisor, Raveen Thukral.

Singh also said that he was sad for not being able to personally handover job letters to the families of the 150 farmers who had died during the protests against farm laws. “Hope CM-designate Charanjit S Channi will do needful at earliest,” he added. “I continue to stand with farmers in fight for justice.”

Opposition reacts

The Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday said that Channi’s appointment as the Punjab chief minister was a part of Congress’ “larger conspiracy” to grab Dalit votes, PTI reported.

“This is an old habit of the Congress,” said BJP National General Secretary Dushyant Kumar Gautam. “It believes that it can capture Dalit vote bank by making a Dalit chief minister for a few months. A conspiracy is being hatched in Punjab to grab Dalit vote bank.”

Gautam, who belongs to the Dalit community, said that Congress has resorted to the “tactic” of appointing Dalit leaders often.

He recounted the appointment of Dalit leader Sushil Kumar Shinde as the Maharashtra chief minister in 2003 only to be replaced with Vilasrao Deshmukh a year later.

Meanwhile, Bahujan Samaj Party President Mayawati requested the Dalits to be wary of “double standards” and “election stunt” of the Congress.

“Congress still does not have faith in Dalits,” she said. “Dalits need to be very alert to their double standards. I have full faith that Dalits will not fall for this stunt.”

She also pointed that the Congress had announced that it would contest the 2022 Assembly elections under a non-Dalit leader and not Channi.

“The reality is that the Congress as well as other political parties think of Dalits only in times of crisis,” she said.

Congress leader in charge of its Punjab affairs Harish Rawat on Sunday had said that the party would contest the election under Navjot Singh Sidhu’s leadership. Former Punjab Congress President Sunil Jakhar opposed the move, saying it negates the very “raison d’être” of Channi’s selection for the chief minister’s position.