New Delhi: Former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar is making more headlines nowadays than what he did when he helmed the state Congress for four years until last July or when he was leader of the opposition in the last Assembly for five years.
Jakhar, 67, emerged as a dark horse as chief ministerial candidate when Capt Amarinder Singh resigned, only to be vetoed by Navjot Sidhu, his successor as state Congress president who enjoys a good rapport with the Gandhis. But for Sidhu’s objection, Jakhar would have been the first Hindu CM of the state since its reorganisation in 1966.
His candidature was also rejected as some senior Congress leaders such as Ambika Soni were of the opinion that only a Sikh should be the chief minister of the state.
The Congress high command later offered him deputy CM’s post but he declined as he considered it a demotion for someone who ran the party for five years.
Known for his plain-speak, Jakhar lambasted AICC Punjab in-charge Harish Rawat Sunday for saying that the next election would be under Sidhu’s leadership.
Jakhar’s outburst forced the AICC to hold a press conference Monday and clarify that both Sidhu and newly-elected Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi would be the party’s faces in 2022 elections.
So, what’s it that gives Jakhar so much clout? It’s not just that he was an MLA for three terms and MP for one term before he went on to head the state Congress.
Jakhar, known to have a ‘clean-image’, mild-mannered and polite to all, comes from a rich political legacy. His father, Balram Jakhar was the longest serving speaker in the Lok Sabha and also a union minister under the Narasimha Rao government.
‘Jakhars don’t come up in everyday conversation’
Sunil Jakhar’s father, Balram Jakhar, was the Lok Sabha speaker from 1980 to 1989. A former governor of Madhya Pradesh as well, Balram was an Indira Gandhi loyalist who also served as agriculture minister in the Narasimha Rao government from 1991-96.
He had been elected as a Lok Sabha MP from Sikar in Rajasthan in 1984, and was also elected from Bikaner in 1998.
Prior to his Lok Sabha career, Balram, who was born in Fazilka district that now lies in Punjab, was elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly in 1972.
This was possible, according to Ashutosh Kumar, professor of Political Science at Panjab University, because earlier candidates would switch between states and contest elections.
Following Balram, two of his sons — Sajjan Kumar Jakhar and Sunil Jakhar — also joined politics. The older Sajjan was a former agriculture minister in the Beant Singh regime, but lost his MLA seat in 1997. He lost out in 2002 again when the Congress decided not to give tickets to those who were defeated in the years before that.
Sajjan’s son, Ajay Vir Jakhar, was the chairman of the Punjab State Farmers Commission, a position he took up in 2017, and which he resigned from after the change in guard in the state.
In a tweet, Ajay said he was resigning “due to the changed circumstances in the state”.
Before being made the chairman of the Punjab State Farmers Commission, he was the chairman of the NGO Bharat Krishak Samaj, which was formed by Balram Jakhar in 1955.
Balram Jakhar also had another son — Surinder — who was the chairman of Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) but who died in a freak accident when he was cleaning his revolver at the farm in 2011. It was reported that he got shot in the head.
Detailing the Jakhar family lineage, Professor Ashutosh Kumar, told ThePrint that the Jakhars were originally from Rajasthan, but right at the border with Punjab and are Hindu Jats, a small but substantial population in the state.
“They are considered to be outsiders in the state as they neither fit the Hindu mould (of being Baniya or Khatri) nor are they Sikhs. So in the Punjab-style of politics, they do not fit,” explained Kumar.
Then what explains Sunil Jakhar’s popularity? Kumar credits it to his “suave image”, of being articulate, well-mannered and “the darling of the media”.
The view is seconded by Pampa Mukherjee, another professor of political science at Panjab University, who also asserts that Sunil’s strengths are related to his attitude.
She, however, added that the Jakhars are overshadowed by other political dynasties in the state. “Unlike other political dynasties in the state, such as the Badals and Amarinder who have a very strong presence, the Jakhars don’t come up in everyday conversation,” Mukherjee said.
The Jakhars are little match for the other political dynasties in the state. Chief among them are the ‘Badals’ of the Shiromani Akali Dal.
Patriarch Parkash Singh Badal is a five-time Punjab chief minister, and also a cabinet minister in the Morarji Desai government at the Centre.
Badal’s son, Sukhbir Singh Badal, had served as the Punjab deputy CM from 2009 to 2017, while his wife, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, was a union minister in the previous Modi cabinet before the SAD walked out of the NDA alliance last year.
Besides the Badals, former CM Captain Amarinder Singh comes from a rich political legacy. His father was the last ‘Maharaja of Patiala’ while his elder sister, Heminder Kaur, was married to former Foreign Minister K. Natwar Singh.
Amarinder’s wife, Preneet Kaur, is the member of Parliament from Patiala and was the minister of state in the Ministry of External Affairs from 2009 to October 2012.
Of the others, senior Congress leader Partap Singh Bajwa is the son of three-time MLA Satnam Singh Bajwa, while new deputy CM, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, is the son of Santokh Singh who was twice the Punjab Congress chief.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)