With Captain Amarinder Singh, a Sikh as Chief Minister and Sunil Jakhar, a Hindu as President of Punjab Congress, Rahul Gandhi has tried to balance community equations. Analysis suggests that Hindus had helped Congress in a big win in Punjab in the recent elections and the party is paying back by passing the baton of the Punjab unit to former leader of opposition Sunil Jakhar.
The three-time MLA and son of former Lok Sabha Speaker, Balram Jakhar, Sunil Jakhar, an MBA, who is the new PCC President has the stamp of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
Immediately on assuming charge, thanking party president Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Captain for reposing faith in him, Jakhar said, ‚ÄúI will try to work as a bridge between the party and the government.‚ÄĚ Rahul picked Jakhar due to his oratory skills, loyalty factor and his popularity among legislators. Indeed Capt Amarinder Singh, on becoming Chief Minister, could not possibly continue to handle the double responsibility of government and party. The
task becomes all the more daunting as BJP is preparing big for 2019 Parliamentary poll.
Obviously, Congress could not take chances and settled for the best. Jakhar made a competent leader of opposition in the last assembly and worked well in tandem with Capt Amarinder Singh after the later took over as Punjab Congress chief. The party high command had, obviously, no problem in accepting the Chief Minister‚Äôs proposal that Sunil Jakhar be elevated as Punjab Congress President. Jakhar seems the most suitable contender for the post, one that he is a Hindu, second that he is popular among legislators, is suave and well educated, his family has been loyal to Congress high command and shares excellent rapport with the chief minister.
It is a known fact that Chaudhary Balram Jakhar Jakhar had stood by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when most Congress leaders had almost deserted her. It was during that period of crisis that Balram Jakhar organized a massive rally in favour of Indira Gandhi. She subsequently rewarded him by making him Speaker of Lok Sabha. He literally emerged as a towering leader and tallest Congress leader in the aftermath of this. Later he served as a Governor too and continued to enjoy proximity to Gandhi family.
Though Sunil Jakhar has all the favourable factors and is tipped to sail through effortlessly as President of Congress in Punjab, he, however, faces some tough challenges, as party‚Äôs organisational health is poor with groups within groups in the party and it has to gear up for the next big challenge of the 2019 parliamentary elections. As one covering Assembly for quite a long time, one often found that during Vidhan Sabha debates, even the then chief minister, Parkash Singh and Badal and his deputy chief minister son, Sukhbir Singh Badal used to listen to his arguments with rapt attention. Surely, as leader of opposition, Jakhar had made a positive impact on both sides of the aisle . Jakhar‚Äôs appointment has sent a clear message down the party line in the state that it is Capt Amarinder Singh who shall have the last word on all party matters. If the Congress manages to give Punjab a modicum of coherent and purposeful governance, the impact will be felt beyond Punjab and for that Jakhar‚Äôs task is cut out for him.
Tough task ahead
His relations with Congress spokesperson Randip Singh Surjewala who also help him build a better coordination with party high command for himself and for Capt Amarinder Singh. But as state chief, he will have to shoulder the responsibility of keeping the party‚Äôs disenchanted MLAs, leaders and workers, who are complaining of a ‚Äúdisconnect‚ÄĚ between the party and government, in good humour.
Party insiders said Rahul picked Jakhar owing to his oratory skills, contribution to the party as spokesman during the campaign and his stature as state leader. Another contender, Lal Singh, had opted out of the race after being appointed Mandi Board chairman.
There had been indications that the party was keen on picking a Hindu leader for the post, especially after it managed to get a large chunk of votes from the community in the recently concluded assembly elections. Names of PPCC senior vice-president Lal Singh and Ludhiana MP Ravneet Bittu were doing the rounds.
However, once Lal Singh was appointed chairperson of the Punjab Mandi Board paving the way for Jakhar‚Äôs appointment. Jakhar was earlier expected to be accommodated in the Rajya Sabha alongside ex-state chief Partap Bajwa. The party high command has appointed Sunil Jakhar and Pritam Singh as its new presidents in Punjab and Uttarakhand, respectively. Pritam Singh replaced Kishore Upadhyay in Uttarakhand where the party recorded a poor performance in the March Assembly elections. The replacement of Upadhyay seems to be an attempt to set the Uttarakhand Congress in order. The state party unit is riven by factionalism, with Upadhyay and former CM Harish Rawat pulling in different directions. Singh, a Thakur, does not belong to any camp and has a clean image. But he does not have organizational experience.
It also announced a new AICC team for Rajasthan, elevating Avinash Pande as general secretary to replace Gurudas Kamat. The new team for Rajasthan, where Assembly elections are due next year, is packed with youths. Pande will be assisted by Vivek Bansal, Quazi Nizamuddin, Devender Yadav and Tarun Kumar.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that the appointments were a mix of youth and experience as 10 of the new AICC secretaries appointed are below 50 years of age. New state presidents could be appointed in several states, including Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Kerala. There is demand for leadership change in Karnataka, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh as well. While former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is at loggerheads with Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar, Himachal Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has been demanding the replacement of PCC president Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu.