Chandigarh: Congress leader Charanjit Singh Channi was on Monday sworn in as chief minister of Punjab, making him the first dalit to hold the top post in the state.
Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and OP Soni were also sworn in. They will be designated as deputy chief ministers.
Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit administered oath to the 58-year-old Channi at a ceremony held at the Raj Bhawan here.
Channi took oath in Punjabi.
In his first remarks after being sworn in, the 58-year-old Channi asked the Centre to withdraw the three contentious farm laws.
Channi said his party stands firmly behind farmers agitating against the "black" farm laws
Farmers in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have been protesting against three contentious farm laws. Several rounds of meetings between the Centre and farmer leaders have ended in a deadlock.
The Congress on Sunday picked Channi as the next chief minister of Punjab after the resignation of Amarinder Singh.
Prominent among those who were present at the oath-taking ceremony were Rahul Gandhi and Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Amarinder Singh, who resigned as chief minister two days back, was conspicuous by his absence.
Channi becomes chief minister with less than six month to go before the Assembly polls in Punjab.
Amarinder Singh was nudged into quitting ostensibly over his “failure” to fulfil the promises made by the party in the 2017 Assembly polls. It is not clear if the new CM will be able to accomplish the task in the time available to him, observers say.
But his appointment will allow the party to play the dalit card in the coming elections. An estimated 30% of the state’s population, counting both Sikhs and Hindus, is from that community. Its biggest concentration is in the Doaba region.
The Congress settled on Channi, the technical education minister in the outgoing Amarinder Singh cabinet, after a flurry of consultations through Sunday.
Several names did the rounds over the next several hours and minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa appeared to be the clear frontrunner for a while. Earlier, Congress veteran Ambika Soni told reporters in Delhi on Sunday that she was offered the post but declined.
Outgoing finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal is also learnt to have backed Channi.
The Congress decision was announced on Twitter a little before 6 p.m Sunday, and came as a surprise to most.
“It gives me immense pleasure to announce that Sh. #CharanjitSinghChanni has been unanimously elected as the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party of Punjab," AICC general secretary Harish Rawat said.
Channi, 58, becomes chief minister with less than six month to go before the Assembly polls.
Its biggest concentration is in the Doaba region.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party had earlier announced that if voted to power in Punjab, it will make a dalit the chief minister. The Shiromani Akali Dal, which is fighting the polls in alliance with Bahujan Samaj Party, has promised a dalit deputy CM.
State Congress chief Sidhu tweeted, "Historic !! Punjab's first Dalit CM-Designate … Will be written with Golden letters in History. A tribute to the spirit of the Constitution and the Congress."
He and the party's central observers Ajay Maken and Harish Chaudhary accompanied Channi when he visited the Raj Bhavan to stake his claim to form the government.
Amarinder Singh also congratulated him. "My best wishes to Charanjit Singh Channi. I hope he's able to keep the border state of Punjab safe and protect our people from the growing security threat from across the border," he said.
Channi is considered close to Sidhu. Along with three other ministers – Randhawa, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria -- he has been part of the Sidhu camp in the party’s divided house in Punjab.
The leadership switch in Punjab could have a bearing on Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the only two other states where the Congress is in power on its own.
"The Punjab developments are likely to have ramifications elsewhere. Dissensions within the party may get fuelled and this will weaken the party further," said a senior leader.
Party sources said the G-23, the grouping of party leaders who have sought an organisational overhaul, is also waiting in the wings to see the outcome of the changes initiated in Punjab.
Former Union minister Ashwani Kumar hoped the outgoing CM's feelings would soon be assuaged. “The resignation of Capt Amarinder Singh was an unpleasant and difficult situation. Its ramifications are yet to unfold,” he told PTI.