Chandigarh, Sept 19: Charanjit Singh Channi - a Dalit Sikh and the outgoing Technical Education Minister - will be the new Chief Minister of Punjab, the Congress said Sunday evening, after Amarinder Singh's resignation yesterday triggered three days of high drama in the poll-bound state.
The choice of Mr Channi as leader of the Congress' state legislature party, and the head of its government, was confirmed by state-in-charge Harish Rawat, who tweeted: "It gives me immense pleasure to announce that Charanjit Singh Channi has been unanimously elected as the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party of Punjab."
News of Mr Channi's appointment came as something of a surprise after sources, just a few hours earlier, appeared to confirm that another outgoing minister - Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa - would be named to the top post.
Mr Randhawa's name, however, was reportedly met with doubts by some party MLAs and the Congress high command - keen to ensure the new Chief Minister has the maximum internal support - quickly switched tack.
"I am happy with high command's decision.... I want to thank all the MLAs who have supported me. Channi is my brother..." Mr Randhawa said soon after Charanjit Channi was announced as Chief Minister.
Months of sniping and hostility between Amarinder Singh and Navjot Sidhu came to a head late Friday after a sudden meeting of Congress MLAs. Sources said around 50 of the party's 80 MLAs wrote to Sonia Gandhi and asked for Mr Singh to be replaced.
A furious Mr Singh then spoke to Mrs Gandhi and told her he had had enough. "I was humiliated three times by Congress leadership..." he said. He wrote to Mrs Gandhi declaring himself "anguished" and to defend his administration's track record.
The Captain also said that though he had resigned, "... for the sake of my country, I'll oppose his (Navjot Sidhu) name for Chief Minister. It's a matter of national security... is an incompetent man... a total disaster..." Of further worry for the Congress, perhaps, was Mr Singh's response to staying with the party; "I can't answer right now."
This morning's meeting of the Congress Legislature Party was postponed after Rajya Sabha MP Ambika Soni - believed to be the party's first choice - declined the offer. Ms Soni said "no" at a late-night meeting with Rahul Gandhi; she stressed on the "ramifications" of a non-Sikh Chief Minister, particularly with an election due.
The Singh-Sidhu feud dates to the 2017 election; Mr Sidhu had hoped to be Deputy Chief Minister but was reportedly denied by Mr Singh. He was instead made a minister but quit two years later. After a sulk he re-emerged, targeting Mr Singh and becoming a hard-to-ignore problem, forcing the party into a mediation attempt that soured after Mr Singh voiced disapproval at Mr Sidhu being made Punjab Congress chief.
The rift escalated sharply in recent weeks and a tenuous truce unravelled after statements by Mr Sidhu's advisers. Last month, four ministers and around 24 MLAs raised fresh complaints against Mr Singh, setting the stage for the weekend's drama.