“Good luck and goodbye, Congress”. With this, Sunil Jakhar signed off from the Congress.
As the former Punjab Congress chief walks out, two of his recent moments in the party stand out. The first one was when he drove Rahul Gandhi around in Ludhiana where the Congress leader announced Charanjit Singh Channi as the party’s Punjab chief ministerial face in February. Jakhar had put up a brave face on stage despite the heartbreak since speculation of him being given the top job came to a naught.
The second one was when Rahul Gandhi looked to Jakhar on stage while announcing Channi’s name and said: “He knows a lot about Punjab and I learn a lot from him.”
Rahul Gandhi can add Jakhar’s parting words to the list of those learnings. While praising Gandhi, Jakhar criticised his coterie; just as Hemant Biswa Sarma, RPN Singh, Jitin Prasada and many others had done before leaving the party.
The exit of Jakhar is riddled with ironies. The blue-eyed boy of the Gandhis and Captain Amarinder Singh, Jakhar was handpicked by the latter to be Punjab Congress chief. Rahul Gandhi was said to be initially impressed with him for his knowledge of economics and Punjab. He was soon recommended to be made campaign committee chief as Rahul Gandhi felt that the duo of Navjot Singh Sidhu and Jakhar could capture the hearts of young and aspirational voters in Punjab.
Sunil Jakhar entered active politics once his father and Congress stalwart Balram Jakhar left it. His father was the longest-serving Speaker of the Lok Sabha and had been the governor of Madhya Pradesh.
Sunil Jakhar contested Assembly elections many times from Abohar in Punjab, and despite initial defeats, he tasted success in 2002. His grit endeared him to the Gandhis. Always one to speak his mind, Sunil Jakhar whole-heartedly supported Rahul’s decision to replace Amarinder Singh as CM despite having been handpicked by the Captain for the state Congress chief.
When Captain was made to resign as CM last year, Jakhar claimed 47 MLAs wanted him to be the CM. He never accepted Channi as the Chief Minister, which led to him commenting that “those who should be at the feet were made to sit on the head”. The remark didn’t go down well and protests from the Dalit community led to Jakhar facing action.
It was quite clear that Jakhar was getting ready to leave the Congress. Bang in the middle of Punjab elections and a day before Rahul Gandhi was to arrive in the state, Jakhar announced that he would quit active politics.
His road trip with Rahul Gandhi from the Ludhiana airport seemed half-hearted. And now with his back to the Congress, Jakhar hopes to drive to a new destination. In doing so, he has erected a steep speedbump in the Congress’ road to recovery.