With veteran Congress leader Sunil Jakhar quitting the party on Saturday, the existing faultlines in the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) were once again on display. Former state Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu came out in Jakhar’s support soon after the former PCC president announced his decision in a Facebook Live stream while the party’s current state chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring lashed out at him.
Calling Jakhar “an asset worth his weight in gold”, Sidhu on Saturday tweeted, “The Congress should not lose #suniljakhar … Is an asset worth his weight in gold … Any difference can be resolved on the table.”
Dalit leader of Congress and former legislator Raj Kumar Verka — who had initially publicly criticised Jakhar and demanded his expulsion, before reversing his stand and calling for unity — said the former PCC chief’s resignation was a “sad day” for the party. “As a true soldier of the Congress and Rahul Gandhi, I will say only one thing that on one side the Chintan Shivir is underway in Udaipur, all senior leaders of the Congress need to do ‘chinta’ on the assets of the Congress getting finished.”
But Warring, Sidhu’s successor, said Jakhar was out of the party because of “wild and unsubstantiated allegations against the party that gave so much to him and his family”.
Punjab Congress working president and former minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu said, “There is no doubt that all (Congressmen) consider him (Jakhar) a good person. But, today the Congress party needs discipline. If a party leader has any grudge against any other party leader, it should be conveyed on the party platform. Even if you want to quit the party, it should be done in a respectful manner.”
Criticising the veteran leader, a senior Congress leader said, “He (Jakhar) was never good to anybody. While serving as PCC chief, he did not go to the grassroots level and did not organise any mass contact program. Someone told him from Delhi that many Punjab leaders were in favour of him (as the CM face) and he made an issue out of that. I don’t know what plans he has, but I am very much sure that not even a single person will support or accompany him wherever he goes.”
Jakhar’s rise and fall
Jakhar was 48 years old when he entered the poll fray in the 2002 Assembly elections. His father Balram Jakhar is the longest-serving Lok Sabha Speaker, served as the governor of Madhya Pradesh, and was close to the Gandhi family.
Sunil Jakhar was branded a reluctant politician but managed to make people sit up and take notice for he neither dressed like a career politician nor spoke like one. He fought and won the election from his family’s pocket borough of Abohar and went on to repeat the feat in 2007 and 2012.
Between 2012 and 2017, he was the Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly. He suffered a surprise defeat in the 2017 Assembly polls at the hands of a local councillor from the BJP but managed to bounce back by getting elected to the Lok Sabha that year from Gurdaspur in a by-poll necessitated by the death of actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna. He lost from Gurdaspur in the 2019 parliamentary elections to the BJP’s Sunny Deol.
Following the downturn in his electoral fortunes, Jakhar’s position in the Congress became precarious. In the run-up to the Punjab elections, Jakhar that the Congress leadership did not choose him as its chief ministerial face as he is Hindu and following the poll debacle labelled former Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi a liability. Last month, the party’s disciplinary committee issued him a show-cause notice saying he was accused of making “derogatory statements against Congress leaders and also attributed motives to the leadership of thinking on communal lines while deciding the leadership of CLP Punjab”.
Jakhar also got in trouble with the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes, which directed the Jalandhar police to register an FIR against him for allegedly making objectionable comments about Dalits in a television interview. Though Jahkhar did not name anyone, his remarks were construed to be aimed at Channi.
Jakhar did not reply to the party’s show-cause notice, saying that instead of making a “public spectacle” out of it, senior Congress leaders should have spoken to him.
Though he did not hold any organisational posts, the party last month stripped him of all positions for not budging from his position. “This is what ails the Congress,” Jakhar said on Saturday. I do not know about AAP, but the Punjab Congress has been demolished by party leaders sitting in Delhi who know nothing about Punjab, Punjabiat, and Sikhism.”
Wishing the party “goodbye and good luck”, Jakhar questioned the functioning style of party president Sonia Gandhi and advised her to be wary of “sycophants”. To revive the party, he asked the Gandhis to “lead by command” instead of being “misled” by those who “don’t know about the ground realities of Punjab”.
Lashing out at senior Congress leader and Sonia’s advisor Ambika Soni, Jakhar said she was a “blot on Punjab, Sikhs and Sikhi” and “defamed and insulted Hindu community” by creating a narrative that “Punjab will be on fire if a Hindu becomes the chief minister”.