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From Amarinder to Jakhar, why BJP has cherrypicked Punjab Congress turncoats for national body

The BJP's move to have senior Punjab politicians on its national executive committee is being seen as part of its preparations in the state for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

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Chandigarh: The BJP has appointed former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and ex-Congress state president Sunil Jakhar as members of the party’s national executive committee, seen as a strategic move to expand its presence in the state and reverse its electoral fortunes.

Apart from the two former Congress leaders, the BJP has also given pride of place to former Congress minister Rana Gurmeet Sodhi and made him a special invitee to the executive committee. Amanjot Kaur Ramoowalia, daughter of another Punjab politician Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, has also been named as a special invitee.

The BJP’s move to have senior Punjab politicians on board is being seen as part of its preliminary preparations in the state for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The appointments have been made ahead of a 5 December meeting called by BJP Chief J.P. Nadda to draw up strategies for the Lok Sabha elections.

Notably, Jaiveer Shergill, who is yet to officially announce his joining the BJP, has been appointed as the party’s national spokesperson. Shergill, a practising lawyer in the Supreme Court, had quit as the Congress national spokesperson in August.

Also read: After recruitment ‘scam’, Punjab AAP govt now faces opposition heat over promotion ‘scam’

Exodus after poll debacle

There has been a virtual exodus from the Congress following the party’s debacle in the assembly elections earlier this year, when the Aam Aadmi Party won 92 out of 117 seats, registering a thumping victory in Punjab.

In November last year, Capt Singh had resigned from the Congress after the high command replaced him as chief minister ahead of the assembly elections. Jakhar joined the BJP in May.

Capt Singh resigned saying that he had been hurt by the conduct of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi. He went on to form his own party, the Punjab Lok Congress (PLC).

Although the PLC joined hands with the BJP during the assembly elections, the new party could not win a single seat and Capt Singh himself lost from his home seat Patiala.

The BJP, which has a limited political presence in the state, has usually allied with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab. However, last year the two parties had parted ways over the issue of the central’s government’s controversial new farm laws, which have since been repealed. In the last assembly elections, the BJP won only two of the 117 seats —Pathankot and Mukerian.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won two of the three seats it contested in alliance with SAD. It won Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur seats, losing Amritsar to the Congress.

For the 2024 elections, the BJP is expected to contest all the 13 Lok Sabha seats on its own. With the entry of senior Punjab leaders in the national executive of the party, the BJP aims to reverse its electoral fortunes.

An uphill task

The BJP lacks strong Sikh leadership in the state and expects Capt Singh to lead the party in expanding its base among the Sikh rural peasantry, a vote bank that the BJP had left the Akali Dal to handle.

BJP’s Punjab leaders are faced with the uphill task of undoing the electoral damage caused due to the long-running farmers agitation against the three farm laws. The agitation had poised Punjab’s rural population in direct confrontation with the Narendra Modi government, and although the laws were scrapped, there is still a trust deficit.

Capt Singh, who has been the chief minister of Punjab twice before, is a shrewd politician with substantive mass appeal. A former army man, he has first hand experienced the dark years of militancy in Punjab. During his tenure as chief minister, he repeatedly highlighted the increased attempts of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to brew trouble in Punjab, which is a border-sensitive state.

Jakhar, who is a senior Hindu leader from the state, was elected as MLA consecutively thrice from Abohar assembly constituency (2002-2017) and became an MP when he won the by-election to Gurdaspur seat in 2017. Sodhi was the former sports minister of Punjab.

(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)

Also read: Congress needs change but can’t do without Gandhis, says Punjab unit ex-chief Sunil Jakhar


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