Chandigarh: In a notice issued Monday evening, the Congress high command named its former Punjab unit chief Sunil Jakhar as in-charge of the campaign committee for the 2022 assembly elections in the state.
Senior Punjab Congress leader Ambika Soni will head the party’s campaign coordination committee, while Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa has been named in-charge of the manifesto committee.
The Congress high command has also put in place a three-member committee headed by party general secretary Ajay Maken to screen candidates for the upcoming elections.
In addition to Maken, the screening committee includes leaders Chandan Yadav and Krishna Vallaru. State party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, and Sunil Jakhar are also part of the screening committee, as are Punjab state affairs in-charge Harish Chaudhary and all AICC secretaries in-charge of Punjab.
The list of names was signed by Congress general secretary K.C. Venugopal and came after a series of meetings between Channi, Sidhu and Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi over the past few days.
In handing over two major responsibilities to Sunil Jakhar, the party has probably tried to undo the damage it caused while ignoring him for the position of chief minister when Captain Amarinder Singh was removed.
Bajwa’s selection as in-charge of the manifesto committee too is being seen in a similar light. A consistent Amarinder-baiter, Bajwa has been upset with the party ever since he found the former CM’s removal brought little benefit to him.
The Jakhar-Sidhu equation
Jakhar was the frontrunner for the post of CM and party leaders had even sounded him out about the possibility. But at the last minute, Jakhar was ignored in favour of Channi. Jakhar has been upset with the party ever since, and has been regularly attacking both Sidhu and Channi in a series of cryptic tweets. He has, however, stopped short of criticising the party leaders in Delhi.
While Monday’s announcement will clearly assuage Jakhar and bring him back into the Congress’ mainstream functioning in the state, many in the party are not sure if Sidhu and Jakhar will be able to work together. The relations between the two have been strained since Sidhu replaced him as state party chief in July this year. Their relations have only worsened in the past few months, since Channi became CM.
Speaking to the media last week, Sidhu had attacked Jakhar for his tweets, claiming that he never bothered to raise vital issues in the interest of Punjab. Jakhar responded by tweeting an Urdu couplet — “but humko kahe kafir, allah ki marzi hai…Sooraj ko lage dhabba, fitrat ke karishme hain…”.
“The state president and the campaign committee in-charge have to work in close collaboration with one another in order to plan and execute rallies, meetings etc. I doubt if these two can even sit across a table together,” said a senior party leader who did not wish to be named.
“The party has roped in Ambika Soni in order to coordinate the campaign and hopefully she will play the peacenik between Sidhu and Jakhar,” the leader said.
In giving important responsibilities to Soni and Jakhar, the Congress high command has also probably kept in mind talk about the party alienating the Hindu vote bank, following Amarinder’s removal.
Ahead of the 2022 assembly elections, all political parties in Punjab have been trying to woo the Hindu vote bank, which had swayed in favour of the Congress in the 2017 Assembly elections, when Captain Amarinder led it to a stunning victory, with 77 seats in the 117-seat legislature.
Bajwa too is pacified
The party has also tried to give due respect to former state party chief Partap Singh Bajwa, who too has been upset for the past several months. An old Amarinder baiter, Bajwa has been criticising the former Punjab CM for years and supported the move to remove him. However, despite having played some role in Amarinder’s removal, Bajwa found that he had gained nothing from the exercise.
Lately, there have been several unverified rumours doing the rounds of his being approached by various other parties to join them ahead of the elections.
Bajwa’s appointment as chairman of the manifesto committee is expected to retain him in the party fold. He has since tweeted his gratitude for the position.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)