The first time I met Sunil Jakhar, the leader of the opposition in Punjab, was through Capt Amarinder Singh. Jakhar had immediately come across as a gentleman and a grass-rooted politician. Someone who was building a political career on his merits, rather than trying to whip up a reputation for himself by criticising his own party men.
The second meeting with Sunil Jakhar was at home in Chandigarh, where I’d invited him over for a coffee to know more about the man who had caught the imagination of the people in just a few months. Son of former Lok Sabha speaker, the formidable Balram Jakhar, and homemaker Rameshwari Devi, Sunil was born on February 9, 1954, in Panjkosi village, on the Punjab-Rajasthan border in Fazilka district. His father was a farmer and was trying his hand to grow something new on the acres and acres of sand dunes which he owned. Memories of his father growing grapes under Partap Singh Kairon’s insistence and the ensuing chaos are still vivid in Sunil’s mind.
School education was nothing spectacular, and an attempt to send him to a boarding school in Dehradun was thwarted by one Pundit Het Ram whom Balram Jakhar trusted a lot. As per the story, when Balram Jakhar went to take a school leaving certificate from the local school, Pundit Het Ram, a renowned scholar of the area, is supposed to have asked Balram Jakhar what was so special about the English in Dehradun schools, which was not there in the Abohar ones? This thought-provoking question had changed Balram Jakhar’s mind after which he asked Sunil’s stuff to be unpacked immediately. Sunil thus stayed put in GD Senior Model School, Abohar’s best English medium school at that time.
Growing up was carefree, stereotypical of a son of a landlord. After completing school, Sunil joined the Government College for Men in Chandigarh and graduated in Economic Honours, much against the wishes of his father, who was keen he become a doctor. “Somehow, all the doctors I had met in life till then had spectacles and I just didn’t like the look of them,” says Sunil.
His desire to pursue MA in Econ-omics was cut short by one of his father’s well-wishers, Chaudhary Kanshi Ram, who found it blasphemous for a Jat brat to be pursuing a career in economics. “Jat ka chora hokey economics,” he said, urging him to join MA English for the sake of the Jat Pride.
Mercifully, friendship with Shakespeare didn’t last for long, and the hidden desire to be an entrepreneur saw him enrolling for an MBA degree at Kurukshetra University a year later. ‘At Leisure’, was the hallmark of his MBA days, forcing one of his professors to remark that, “he had come across visiting professors, but had never seen a visiting student.” His attempt to attain higher education in the US hit a roadblock — this time due to an emotional outburst by friend, Late Gursharan Singh. Sunil tore his admission papers after Gursharan in a drunken stupor remarked, “No doubt you will get a lot of mems and tohr in the US but not a Yaar like me.”
Incidentally, Sunil is a teetotaller and has never tasted alcohol. Sunil is married to Silvia, a Swiss lady, who prefers to remain in the backdrop.
Entry into politics was not by design but purely by chance for Sunil Jakhar, after he was given the party ticket instead of his father in 1996. Sunil, however, lost that election from Ferozepur. Not inclined to pursue politics further, since he was happy with life as it is, circumstances again pushed him to contest the 2002 Punjab polls from Abohar. Three wins on a trot and the elevation to the post of leader of the opposition have not come without a reason. His capability to take the government head-on over crucial matters has been aptly demonstrated in the last seven months. “Incidentally, Balram Jakhar was the leader of the opposition in 1977 and Parkash Singh Badal was the chief minister. ‘Hamsaya’ (shadow) is what Badal calls him in private.
Sharing how he got appointed as the leader of opposition, Sunil claims that he never lobbied for the post. “In fact, Captain Amarinder recommended my name,” he says. “I did meet Sonia Gandhi, once but only to request her for one thing. Since the newspapers were reporting that the party was looking for a Hindu face for the post, and my name was one of the three being considered, I requested her not to appoint me just because I was a Hindu as it would be an insult to my Punjabiyat. Appoint me for my calibre,” he had pleaded.
And Punjab for Sunil Jakhar means, where every child gets education and every resident respect. One hopes that Sunil Jakhar remains rooted to his philosophy — for the path to remain truthful to one’s belief is treacherous in Punjab’s politics.
Punjabi by nature is a fortnightly column. The columnist is a Punjab-based author and journalist.
The writer can be reached @firstname.lastname@example.org