The real Jagmeet Singh Brar however, is a blend of these extreme and contradictory descriptions. By snapping his more than three-decade-long umbilical cord with the Congress, the 56-year-old politician from Malwa — the political nerve centre of Punjab — has played a calculated gambit to resurrect his dwindling political career.
By all accounts, he is set to jump onto the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bandwagon as a new and prominent Sikh face in the saffron party that is seeking to broaden its base beyond the Hindu constituency in Punjab.
In his political heyday, Brar commanded the attention of people by his loud and forceful articulation of Punjab’s interests in Parliament and outside — a feat that earned him the title of ‘Awaz-e-Punjab’.
But, Brar committed the ultimate sin — out of frustration, as some say — after the party’s disastrous showing in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections: he obliquely blamed the Gandhi family and went to the extent of advising Sonia and Rahul to take a break from the party. The high command was quick to suspend him. Brar’s rebellious streak backfired to the extent he had probably not imagined.
Son of five-time MLA from Malout Gurmeet Singh, who was popularly known as ‘Advocate’, Brar cut his teeth in politics early on. An alumnus of Punjab Public School, Nabha, where he was a peer of Partap Singh Bajwa, now state Congress chief and a bête noire, Brar graduated from the government college, Muktsar. But, it was during his law degree at Punjabi University, Patiala, that he jumped headlong into the tumultuous student politics, influenced largely by Prithipal Singh Randhawa, a popular leader of the Punjab Students Union who was assassinated in 1979. Brar also flirted with the All India Sikh Students Federation until 1975.
It was in 1979 that Brar first shot into limelight. CM Parkash Singh Badal was scheduled to unfurl the national flag at Faridkot on August 15. Brar and nearly 300 students decided to protest against him for his ‘antifarmer’ policies. Brar and others were arrested by Simranjit Singh Mann, then Faridkot SSP and now Shiromani Akali Dal (Mann) president.
Brar and his colleagues were charged with the offence of tearing off the Tricolour. Close associates said it was a false case registered at the behest of Badal who was a political adversary of Brar’s father. Brar and others had to spent seven months in Bathinda, Faridkot and Ferozepur jails till the district cour ts of Faridkot exonerated him, finding no evidence of the offence.
Late Jagdev Singh Talwandi, then SAD president, set up a panel to probe charges against Brar and found him not guilty.
It was late Darbara Singh, a friend of Brar’s father, who took him to Delhi in 1979 when he was barely 21. At that time, Harcharan Singh Brar had refused to contest against Badal from Faridkot. So, Darbara told Indira Gandhi that Jagmeet would contest against Badal. “Tum ladoge Badal ke khilaf,” Indira asked him in disbelief.
In 1980, Brar fought his first election when he was 22 against Badal. He lost by barely 11,000 votes. In 1983, he became an administrative member of the Punjab State Electricity Board, where he was instrumental in disbursing 1.5 lakh power connections for tubewells despite opposition from other members.
He unsuccessfully fought the 1989 Lok Sabha polls from Ferozepur.
TWO-TIME FARIDKOT MP
Brar won his first election from Faridkot in 1992 and later in 1999, when he defeated Sukhbir Badal. Thereafter, some say he lost contact with the people in Faridkot and perhaps took more interest in Delhi politics. Subsequently, he failed to win any election.
Brar was known for not getting along well with any of the Congress chief ministers. However, he explains that he was largely misunderstood as he was vocal and forthright in his views.
He was first peeved when Amarinder was made the president of the state party unit in 1998. He was also disappointed when the Congress lost in Punjab in the 2007 polls. His close associates said Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Amarinder told the high command that they would resign if Brar was made the state unit chief. Bhattal was then given the posts of the PPCC president and the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader.
Post-Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, when the Congress split, Brar threw his lot with the faction led by ND Tiwari. But he soon returned to the Congress fold. Sonia Gandhi tried to keep him in good humour by appointing him on the powerful Congress Working Committee, but that didn’t help resurrect his career in Punjab, where his support base now counts little more than a rump. Brar was staring into the political wilderness before he decided to bid adieu to the Congress.
But, the shrewd leader will have to do more than party-hopping to be back in the political reckoning.