ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Making of Punjab’s Dalit Chief Minister

To dismiss the elevation of Charanjit Singh Channi as a mere political gimmick would be wrong.


Assigning the responsibility to Charanjit Singh Channi as the chief minister of Punjab, just a few months before the assembly elections in the state, has evoked a rather unusual response from the popular media and the political class. A few weeks back when the chief minister of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled state of Gujarat was changed, the reactions were very different. Political commentators did express surprise at the incumbent being an unknown face, but it hardly raised any questions and hence lacked any intense discussion. Neither did the change of guard in Gujarat find enough space for commentary in the editorial columns of the national dailies nor in the television chat rooms. Channi’s elevation, however, has generated a different scale of interest. It also raises many questions, the most important of these being issues related to his caste identity. His being a Dalit has raised, particularly among the Sikhs, a much larger question as to what would be its immediate implications for the upcoming assembly elections in Punjab and the longer term politics in the state.

Since the reorganisation of Punjab in 1966, the state politics has been almost exclusively controlled by the landed Jatt Sikhs. With the exception of Giani Zail Singh (1972–77), all chief ministers have been Jatt Sikhs. This, in a way, has only been an extension of their overall position in rural Punjab and its agrarian economy, where they have been a dominant caste community, both in numbers as well as in their economic status.

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Updated On : 4th Oct, 2021
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