Monday, 27 June, 2022
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With Sunil Jakhar’s induction, BJP ‘hopes to boost Punjab push, reclaim Hindu vote from AAP’

Former Punjab Congress chief and ex-Gurdaspur MP Sunil Jakhar has been upset with the party since last September when he was passed over for CM post in favour of Charanjit Channi.

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New Delhi: Former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar broke his “50-year-old tie” with the party to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Delhi Thursday, attributing his decision to issues of “nationalism” and “unity” and saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi understands the nerve of Punjab. 

It has come as a big boost to the BJP, which has been on the political margins in the state since its long-term ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) broke the alliance in 2020 over three now-scrapped farm laws.

Sources in the BJP said many in the party feel that being a Jat leader, Jakhar could help give a boost to the party in Haryana as well. At the same time, Jakhar is also in touch with a number of disgruntled Congress leaders in Punjab, the BJP sources said.  

The BJP had contested 65 seats in the Punjab assembly elections this year, winning two seats with a vote share of a little over 6 per cent. 

“The party is focused on increasing its presence in the state especially ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Jakhar is a tall leader who understands the dynamics of the state well. The Congress did injustice to such a tall leader in Punjab just because he was a Hindu and the party wanted a Sikh as the chief minister,” a BJP leader told ThePrint.   

The BJP leader was referring to the denial of chief ministership to Jakhar after the Congress ousted former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh in September 2021. The Congress replaced Singh with Charanjit Singh Channi, overlooking Jakhar’s claim for the coveted chair. In a video that had gone viral in February, Jakhar could be heard saying 42 MLAs wanted him to be the chief minister after Singh’s exit last year. He’s also heard saying that only two legislators favoured Charanjit Singh Channi.

“Not 40 but 42 MLAs voted in my support, 16 for Sukhjinder Randhawa, 12 votes for Maharani Preneet Kaur (Amarinder Singh’s wife and Patiala MP), six votes for Navjot Singh Sidhu, and two votes for (Charanjit Singh) Channi. I have no remorse. Rahul Gandhi called me and offered me the post of deputy chief minister but I declined,” Jakhar can be heard saying in the video. 

Months before, senior Congress leader Ambika Soni, a close aide of the Gandhis, said only a Sikh could be chief minister of Punjab. This came after she was offered the chief ministerial position in the middle of the political crisis caused by Amarinder Singh’s resignation.  

Jakhar was one of the frontrunners for the position of chief minister then: His name was allegedly dropped after Soni’s statement.

The former Gurdaspur MP, who had been vocal in his criticism of Charanjit Singh Channi since — even blaming the leader for the party’s poor performance in the Punjab assembly polls — quit the Congress last week, on the second day of the party’s ‘Chintan Shivir’ brainstorming session in Udaipur. A Facebook Live video he used to announce his decision shows him criticising Sonia Gandhi’s handling of the party’s affairs. 

Also Read: Congress gives Punjab ex-chief Sunil Jakhar key poll role, but his tiff with Sidhu is a worry

‘Not an easy job to leave’

A three-term MLA and one-term parliamentarian, Jakhar, who was the president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee until last July, has 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.

BJP president J.P. Nadda said Jakhar would have a special role in strengthening the party in the state.  

“He is an experienced leader and comes from a family of politicians who have served the country for over three decades. He has an identity of his own distinct from the party. He has worked for the farmers, for the youth, and has an image of an honest politician,” Nadda said after Jakhar joined the BJP. 

Soon after he joined the BJP, Jakhar said it was not an easy task for him to leave the Congress given that his ties with the Congress, which he considered his ‘family’, went back to 1972.  

“It is not an easy job to leave as three generations of my family have served the party treating it as a family,” Jakhar said. 

The former Lok Sabha Member of Parliament said his decision to leave was not personal but over issues such as “nationalism”, “brotherhood”, and “unity” in the state. 

Prime Minister Modi has a good understanding of Punjab and had accorded it “special” status, albeit informally, Jakhar said. 

“I met Prime Minister Narendra Modiji in Punjab. Got a chance to talk to him. Punjab has given many sacrifices. I believe that PM Modi has given special status [and] respect to Punjab. It might not have been conferred officially but Modiji understands the nerve of Punjab,” he said. 

Getting back Hindu votes

Another BJP functionary said that Jakhar joining the party will help it get back the ‘Hindu’ votes which the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had cornered in the recent assembly elections. 

Hindus constitute a little over 38 per cent population in Punjab and they have been the traditional support base of the BJP. However, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was able to wean away a significant chunk of the BJP’s base in Punjab in the last election, which it swept in March, winning 92 of the state’s 117 assembly seats. 

The BJP leader, however, said that the presence of his party had nevertheless increased as it contested 23 assembly seats in 2017 which went up to 65 in 2022.

“The 2022 assembly polls were like an experiment to help us make inroads in the state. There are many learnings from the 2022 assembly polls,”  the BJP leader said. “We might not have done well but it has given us fodder to strategise on what we need to do in terms of expansion for Punjab and for the 2024 polls.”

According to BJP functionaries, Jahkar’s entry into the BJP has to be seen also in the context of the recent induction of senior SAD leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa. A former two-time Delhi assembly MLA, Sirsa was also the president of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC). 

“While Sirsa will focus on the Sikh community, Jakhar will try to establish ties with Hindus who seem to have gone towards the AAP,” the BJP leader said.  

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: Sunil Jakhar, Punjab leader from political dynasty that ‘doesn’t come up in everyday conversation’


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