In a setback for the grand old party, former Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president Sunil Jakhar on Saturday quit the party, wishing it “good luck and goodbye”.
Jakhar dropped the bombshell on the beleaguered state unit via Facebook live even as the Congress top brass is huddled at a three-day Chintan Shivir (brainstorming session) being held in Udaipur, Rajasthan, to discuss the party’s revamp and its strategy for the 2024 parliamentary elections.
The disgruntled leader had initially planned to travel to Udaipur and hold a press conference there, but later changed his mind and shared ‘dil ki baat’ from his house in Panchkula, calling it his “parting gift” to the Congress. Before going live, he also dropped the Congress and its flag from his social media handles. He, however, did not give any indication about joining another party. When contacted, the veteran leader said his aim was to show the party the mirror.
Jakhar, who headed the state Congress for more than four years before being replaced with Navjot Singh Sidhu in July 2021, has been furious with the party leadership ever it issued a show-cause notice and then removed him from all posts on April 30 for alleged anti-party activities in the run-up to the state elections.
The disciplinary action was taken on Punjab affairs in-charge Harish Chaudhary’s complaint to Congress president Sonia Gandhi that his (Jakhar’s) statements had dented the party’s electoral prospects. Chaudhary, last month, also sent another letter to the Congress president, recommending action against Sidhu for his anti-party activities. The infighting-ridden Congress was routed by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and got just 18 of the 117 assembly seats.
‘Congress facing existential crisis’
The former Lok Sabha MP’s annoyance was evident from his 35-minute harangue on social media during which he took shots at several Congress leaders, particularly Rajya Sabha member Ambika Soni and successive Punjab affairs in-charges of the party. Beginning his livestream by calling the brainstorming session a “formality”, Jakhar said the Congress is facing an existential crisis, but they are behaving as if the responsibility of the nation rests on its shoulders and set up six committees on foreign, economic and agriculture policies when the need of the hour is to decide how to save the party.
“Yeh toh chinta ka shivir hona chahiya tha na ki chintan ka. If they were really worried, another committee would have been set up on the poll debacle in UP, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa,” he said.
Considered to be close to Rahul Gandhi earlier, Jakhar said he is a very fine and upright person and should take reins of the Congress in his hands. “He should learn to differentiate between friend and foe as well as distance himself from sycophants. If you cannot distinguish between friend and foe, then understand to differentiate between assets and liabilities,” he said, stressing that the Gandhi family’s presence was necessary for the Congress to function as one party.
‘Delhi leaders sunk Congress in Punjab’
Coming down hard on “leaders sitting in Delhi”, Jakhar also blamed former Punjab affairs in-charge and Congress’ CM face in Uttarakhand, Harish Rawat for the party’s debacle, calling his defeat in the hill state as divine intervention.
“Rawat was sent to destabilise Amarinder who was sitting pretty. The opposition parties usually try to destabilise,” he said, asking whether the entire exercise was “controlled destabilisation”.
Calling the Congress’ handling of party affairs in Punjab a “case study”, Jakhar also cited the example of Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot by saying that he has to tell people every 15 days that he would remain the chief minister.
“Sidhu was also issued a notice in Punjab for speaking against both Capt Amarinder and Charanjit Channi…those from Rajasthan who camped in Manesar for one month, should they not be served notice by the party. They are called by the Congress president for consultations,” he said, commenting on rebellion in the party in the neighbouring state in 2020.
Jakhar also accused Soni of misleading the Congress leadership and sinking the party with her remark on the issue of a Hindu leader as the chief minister. He said the Congress will not be able to find its feet again in Punjab until the party is rid of such leaders. Mocking the action against him, Jakhar asked the party leadership from which post they removed him as he was holding none. He asked if his statements had damaged the party’s prospects in the elections why he was not sacked. The former PPCC chief also expressed strong displeasure over being served notice by Tariq Anwar, member secretary of the Congress disciplinary action committee, saying that he (Anwar) was the person who had called Sonia Gandhi a foreigner and quit the Congress in 1999 to protest against her appointment as the party president.
Jakhar also advised the Congress leadership to stick to its ideology and not to drift from its intellectual moorings. The Jakhar family has a five-decade-long association with the Congress. His father Balram Jakhar, who passed away in 2016, was a senior party leader who served as Lok Sabha speaker and Union minister. Jakhar’s nephew Sandeep Jakhar is presently the Congress MLA from Abohar.