In the middle of election campaigning, and at a time, when he has locked horns with his bete noire within Congress — in another sign of growing fissures and internal wrangling in the party leadership in Punjab, The New Indian’s Executive Editor Rohan Dua caught up with CM Charanjit Channi at his maternal home Makrauna Kala in his constituency Chamkaur Sahib. He spoke on the fight over CM candidature with Navjot Singh Sidhu, remarks by MLA Sunil Jakhar on who was ahead in the CM pick race, the ED raids on his nephew amid recovery of Rs 10 crore-haul as well as the mishandling of PM Narendra Modi’s trip to Ferozepur on January 5.
Rohan Dua: Yesterday, when I was interviewing Navjot Singh Sidhu’s wife in Amritsar, she categorically told me if they (Sidhu and she) don’t get the top post or the change, they will go back to their professions. Which certainly means that Sidhu will either go on to commentate or work with television channel.
Charanjit Singh Channi :Both Sidhu and I have requested Rahul Gandhiji that he must declare the CM face for the upcoming polls. The person can be anyone, not necessarily between Sidhu and me. Sidhu sahab has himself said that elections are fought either on issues or face, and he wants a CM face. Both of us have also said in the presence of Rahulji that we will accept whoever he chooses as CM face. I am sure that Sidhu is a man of his words and he himself says he doesn’t go back on his words.
Rohan Dua: Could I tell you Mr Channi that such threats are not uncommon in your party. Even Captain Amarinder Singh, when he was in the Congress, used to issue such threats that he would float his own party while he was in the UK in 2016. At that time you all were worried. Eventually, the party had to give in to his demands. Is the same kind of politics repeating itself?
Charanjit Singh Channi: People of Punjab wanted Captain Amarinder at that time. That’s why the party declared him the CM face, not because of threats he had issued. This time as well, the party will choose the CM face in accordance with the wishes of the people. Threats won’t work.
Rohan Dua: If I talk about your minister and Kapurthala MLA Rana Gurjit, his son is fighting election as an independent. I can’t understand how can someone who is a minister and swears loyalty to his party can let his son fight as an independent. Also, your brother is also contesting as an independent. Congress is facing strange and peculiar infighting. How can Punjab see this?
Charanjit Singh Channi: Everyone has their own aspirations. Everyone wants to progress and enhance stature. When someone is the politics and doing well, then family members and relatives of that person also harbour desires to become the MLA. His son and my brother are also driven by personal ambitions. I can force my brother to a limit to not contest, but after that it’s his call. The situation is same with Rana Gurjit. I don’t think his son will campaign against a Congress candidate.
Rohan Dua: I remember that before 2017, Sunil Jakhar was removed as the CLP leader and you were appointed. The same Jakhar is now almost against you. Recently he made a statement that 42 MLAs were in favour of him becoming the CM (after Amarinder Singh’s exit), while you and Sidhu had the support of only 6 and 2 MLAs respectively.
Charanjit Singh Channi: I was not even a contender for the CM post. When I was not even in contention, how could I have got the votes? There was no buzz about me at all. I was a back bencher. By the quirk of fate, I was propelled to the forefront by the party and people. That’s destiny.
Rohan Dua: But Bikram Majithia and Akali Dal are alleging that there is no internal democracy within the Congress.
Charanjit Singh Channi: Nothing like that. There is internal democracy within our party.
Rohan Dua: You have given ticket to all the MLAs who are standing with you such as Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Aruna Chaudhary. Do you think you have given them tickets in haste, as there is a possibility of anti-incumbency against them in their constituencies?
Charanjit Singh Channi: No, the tickets have not been disbursed in haste. The party has given tickets after thorough deliberation and after consulting everyone, including Sidhu. Yes, sometimes there are chances of mistake on some seats but overall ticket distribution is quite satisfactory.
Rohan Dua: I’ve seen their career very closely, be it Capt Amrinder or anyone else. There was a big scandal, a drug scandal under Sukhbir Badal, and even a mining scandal with Rana Gurjit under Capt Amrinder. I want to ask, I uncovered the mining scandal and you took back Rana Gurjit in the cabinet again. Why did you do it?
Charanjit Singh Channi: Rana Gurjit had nothing to do with it. Capt Amarinder didn’t want anyone influential to come forward and that’s why he started the controversy. It is not the truth, Capt Amrinder is a master of such things and can make anyone scandalous.
Rohan Dua: But when they recovered Rs 10 crore from your nephew and there were allegations on you, it was your family member after all. I have known your career and you have enjoyed a spotlight-free and blemish-free career. This is the first time such allegations have come out, do you think it has tainted your image now after all your family members are involved after you became a CM
Charanjit Singh Channi – I not responsible for the actions of my relatives. What do I do if money is recovered from them? I don’t owe their responsibility?
Rohan Dua : Bikram Majithia is saying you gave gunmen to your nephew. There is CCTV footage to support that.
Charanjit Singh Channi– I didn’t give anyone a gunman and I have nothing to do with it. They raided 10 homes and whatever they found there is on them. I am not liable, putting my photo next to money and tainting me. What is my involvement? Even the public understands this.
Rohan Dua: But cash recovery was from your nephew’s house, the gunman was there and there is security and vehicles there.
Charanjit Singh Channi”There was no security or vehicles there. Money has been recovered from multiple houses and they’ll have to explain that. I have no involvement in that, I have said it a thousand times.
Rohan Dua – I have seen Punjab police very closely be it under SAD. I’ll ask a controversial question, Punjab police are close to my heart. I have exposed a lot of things and I’m sure no one has done it the way I did in anyone’s tenure. I have exposed them wherever there was a scandal. This is an imp question concerning national security. When PM’s cavalcade was passing through Firozpur, they said they tried calling you multiple times but you didn’t respond. I’m not sure if it is true or not. But you said you were not aware of them passing through that route. I have 4 notes from ADG intelligence stating that they alerted you and your government, 3 days before. Jan 1, 2 & 3. Three times that alternate route can be taken. Even then farmers were made to sit in that route and insulted the PM
Charanjit Channi- How can you say farmers were made to sit? It was not the PM’s route. And they were sitting far ahead in that route and they were agitating and there were only a handful of people. PM’s cavalcade stopped prior to that and they returned. No one came close to them, no one sloganeered or pelted stones. What was wrong with that?
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