Veteran Punjab Congress leader from the politically-significant Malwa belt, Avtar Singh Brar, who held vital positions in the party and remained education minister also, snapped his over 40-year association with the party and joined the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) on Wednesday here.
Brar remained education minister in the Beant Singh regime and held senior positions such as member, All India Congress Committee (AICC), besides holding the post of vice-president of the PPCC thrice and general secretary of Congress Legislature Party (CLP).
The 75-year-old leader, a traditional Congressman, said he took this unusual step of coming under the wings of the SAD after being humiliated and subjected to "mental torture" by the Congress leadership.
Brar had begun feeling sidelined in the run-up to the January 2012 assembly elections when he was initially denied the ticket and ultimately got it by mounting pressure on the high command. The entry of Kushaldeep Singh Dhillon aka Kiki, who had left the PPP to join the Congress and was being promoted in place of Brar, begun the process of the state leadership sidelining the senior party leader.
"The Congress party in Punjab is in the hands of leaders who were not even born when I had begun actively working for the party. Traditional Congressmen like me are being completely ignored…," he said. "Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa's father was junior to me in the Congress. And you know the background of Sukhpal Singh Khaira (Congress spokesperson)… Such junior leaders are now teaching the Congress culture to senior leaders like me."
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal together welcomed Brar in the SAD fold. While the chief minister termed the development as "major boost" for the SAD, the deputy CM said, "This is a historic day for the party."
Describing Brar as the oldest and the cleanest grassroot leader, Sukhbir said, "It's a great honour to have him (Brar) here in the Akali Dal."
The SAD president, Sukhbir Badal, said Brar, a committed and one of the top three senior leaders of
Punjab Congress, deserting the Congress was a testimony to the level of frustration among party leaders who spent their entire life to nurture the Congress and in return were neglected and ignored.
Responding to questions, Brar said the state leadership of the Congress was in the hands of the leaders who have nothing to count as their contribution to the party or to the state.
He said he and other senior leaders of the Congress were dismayed by this state leadership as they have left them as orphans. He added that there was no point to serve in a party whose leaders were not sensitive to the feelings of the senior party leaders.
Brar gave a brief account of his contribution to the party and said he felt hurt after being ignored by the present state and national leadership of the Congress.
Among others present on the occasion were SAD Lok Sabha MP Paramjeet Kaur Gulshan, cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia, chief parliamentary secretary Mantar Singh Brar, MLA Deep Malhotra and Punjabi lyricist Babu Singh Mann.