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.
Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit administered oath to Channi at a ceremony held at the Raj Bhawan here. Channi took oath in Punjabi.
Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and O P Soni, both outgoing ministers in the previous Amarinder Singh cabinet, were also administered oath of office and secrecy by the Punjab Governor. They will be designated as deputy chief ministers.
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 oath-taking ceremony, which was scheduled to commence at 11 am, was slightly delayed. Rahul Gandhi was present at the ceremony.
The Congress on Sunday picked Channi as chief minister of Punjab after Amarinder Singh resigned from the post. Channi is a three-time legislator from Chamkaur Sahib assembly constituency in Rupnagar district.
Thanking the party leadership, Channi told reporters here that the party has given a common person a great honour. He also described Rahul Gandhi as a "revolutionary leader".
Channi said he will become the voice of the common people of Punjab and will always remain accessible to the people.
Together, we have to make Punjab prosperous. Punjab is primarily an agrarian state. This government is pro-farmer, he said.
Channi, was the Technical Educational and Industrial Training Minister in the Amarinder Singh cabinet.
His appointment was announced by AICC general secretary Harish Rawat on Sunday.
"It gives me immense pleasure to announce that Sh. #CharanjitSinghChanni has been unanimously elected as the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party of Punjab," Rawat had said.
The 49-year-old Channi has also been Leader of Opposition in the Punjab Assembly during the Parkash Singh Badal-led Akali-BJP government.
Sources said that Soni's name as Deputy CM was cleared by the party shortly before the ceremony.
While Randhawa is a Jat Sikh, Soni is a Hindu face as the Congress sought to balance caste equations with less than six month left for the Punjab Assembly polls.
Channi's selection assumes significance as the dissension-riven Congress faces the Assembly polls in less than six months.
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 per cent of the state's population, counting both Sikhs and Hindus, is from that community.
The opposition BJP had earlier announced that if voted to power in Punjab, it will make a Dalit the chief minister, while the Shiromani Akali Dal - which is fighting the polls in alliance with the BSP - had said that its deputy CM would be from that community.
Amarinder Singh said he hopes that Channi is able to keep the border state of Punjab safe.
"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 state Congress chief Navjot Singh 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 sniping between Amarinder Singh and Sidhu continued even after the younger leader's elevation. For the CM, the summoning of the legislative party meeting on Saturday was the last straw.
Hours before the CLP meeting, the Captain' got in touch with party president Sonia Gandhi, apparently telling her that he has been humiliated and will resign as CM.
In a letter to her, Singh mentioned his personal anguish over political developments in the past five months and apprehended that the high command's move might cause instability in the state.
While the 62-year-old Randhawa is a three-time legislator and currently represents Dera Baba Nanak assembly constituency in Gurdaspur district, the 64-year-old Soni was holding the ministry of medical education and research in the Amarinder Singh-led cabinet.
Hailing from Amritsar, Soni is a five-time legislator and currently represents Amritsar-Central assembly seat.
Besides Rahul Gandhi, prominent among those who were present at the event included AICC general secretary Harish Rawat, party leader Ajay Maken, former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and Manpreet Singh Badal.
Amarinder Singh, who resigned as chief minister two days back, was conspicuous by his absence.
(With PTI inputs)