The world has changed a lot since 1996 when he lost his debut electoral contest, but the politics here remains the same. As Sunil Kumar Jakhar, 60, leader of opposition in the Punjab assembly, campaigns in another bid for the Lok Sabha from Ferozepur, you could well mistake it for an assembly contest as he turns the pitch into a referendum on the SAD-BJP regime.
We board his Innova at Abohar around 8am, a 15-minute drive from his village Panjkosi. A stain on the kurta says breakfast was hurried, but it’s impolite to ask.
The 60-year-old three-time MLA, who is still referred to as a “youth leader”, mentions foremost that the schedule involves villages in the Akali stronghold of Malout, one of nine assembly segments in Ferozepur.
“This was the prestige of Mrs Surender Kaur Badal, [wife of CM Parkash Singh Badal]. Since she has passed away, the CM has been campaigning here more actively.” On his legacy — father Balram Jakhar won here in 1980 — he insists: “Two generations have passed since! Every election is different.”
Near Malout, ex-MLA Nathu Ram gets in, we swerve into Virk Khera village, and the atmosphere gets charged. The stage is the front of a haveli, and women sit on the sidelines.
Jakhar touches several women’s feet before taking the mike and starts talking about how his father had taught him that politics was “all about service”.
Then, he serves some rustic bites: “Tusi MP nahi vakeel karna hai, jeda tuhadi gal Parliament ch rakhe. Maada vakeel changa case haraa dinda hai (You are not electing an MP but hiring a lawyer. A bad lawyer can lose a good case).., Ena da ragda laa deo es vari (Decimate the SADBJP this time).”
He mentions non-payment of pensions and scholarships “despite crores from the Centre”, and refers to the CM’s sangat darshan (public hearings) as “daang (baton) darshan”.
Recalling the “great work” of Captain Amarinder Singh regime of the Congress, he criticises payment of “Rs 6 crore to Bollywood stars for a 6-minute performance” at the Kabaddi World Cup at Bathinda and the use of “Rs 4.5-lakh-an-hour” choppers by the SAD leadership.
He repeatedly mentions the neighbouring LS segment of Bathinda, where the CM’s daughter-in-law Harsimrat Kaur Badal is seeking re-election: “A judo player was raped near here, but no action was taken.
A girl was abducted from Faridkot and raped by Akali goons. This is the rule of fear.” Then he underlines the “deplorable condition” of Jalalabad, the segment of deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, seen as a Rai Sikh pocket loyal to SAD’s incumbent MP Sher Singh Ghubaya. Yet — true to his old-school style — never in his attack on the Badals does he venture beyond politics.
As for Ghubaya, Jakhar calls him “a non-speaking MP who mortgaged his zubaan (voice) to the Badals”, and recites a Surjit Bindrakhiya classic to define him: “Tu ni boldi, rakaane tu ni boldi… tere ch tera yaar bolda (Your voice is not yours but that of your lover).”
The next stop is Shergarh Gian Singh Wala, where the speech is global-desi: “This election is bagaawat (uprising) against the Akali regime. See what happened in Libya and Egypt! Akaliyan de halqa incharge nahin, hal kehoye incharge ne (SAD’s constituency incharges have gone rabid).”
He says later in the car: “I stayed in the US and Europe for several years. So sometimes the references are like that!”
Life abroad was about “doing nothing”. His wife is Swiss, lives in Delhi, and they have no children. “I like to be by myself and guard my personal life.”
Even the family driver since 1977, Lal Chand, says Jakhar had little interest in politics early on. Actually, barring 1996, the plan was for his elder brother Sajjan Jakhar, a former state minister, to be the political heir, “but I contested [and won] in 2002 after Sajjan bhai saab was denied ticket”.
Asked if he would make the transition to national politics like his father, he says, “Nothing has been planned, but this could be my last chance to make the transition actually.”
He is not very active on social media — “maybe we missed that avenue” — but reads the pulse. At the next stop, he urges people to “check on internet” his speeches on SAD’s unfulfilled promise of
Rs 1,000/month unemployment allowance.
Sand and the SAD poll symbol takdi (weighing scales) are added: “Reta v hunn takdi ch paa ditta hai, kilo de bhaa! (Even sand is now sold by the kilo, using scales).”
He also talks of being a candidate of the Congress-People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) combine: “These areas have good PPP presence, and we should have tied up even in the assembly polls. Better late than never.”
Just then, as we turn towards Khoonan Kalan, a man who glorifies himself an “NRI supporter from the US” manages to confuse everyone about the venue and route.
Two meetings have been organised in the village, but Jakhar is already late. Eventually, he addresses both and asks people to demand why “Rs 560 crore central grant under the Indira Aawas Yojana” was not used to build houses for the poor, “except in next-door Lambi, the CM’s assembly segment”.
“I accompanied the CM to Delhi in spite of criticism from within my party. But Badal
saab did not even thank [PM] Dr Manmohan Singh for Rs 2,200 crore given to tackle waterlogging in the fields here.”
He barely mentions BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi: “What does this Modi know about our area?
This is an election about me and you, and we need to teach the Badals a lesson.” He does not mention the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in speeches, but tells us: “Their candidate (Satnam Pal Kamboj) seeks votes based on community.
How is that different from Ghubaya?” He concedes that “in the towns, AAP would get some votes that would mostly dent the Congress”: “But AAP supporters should vote for any party’s candidate who fulfils their clean criteria.”
Before we stop by a canal for a midday bite — roti with fried potatoes, eaten out of the wrapping paper — he lightens up and jokes about his much appreciated oratorical skills: “It’s like replaying a tape, and my ears get sick of hearing myself. I change the sequence of sentences, but, well, if the basic issues remain the same, what new can one say?”
A Toyota Innova led by a police Gypsy and a jeep announcing his arrival several kilometres ahead.
White kurta-pyjama in starched cotton; black sneakers
‘Cousin-nephew’ Sanjay Jakhar tails us, managing the Malout campaign. Brother Sajjan Kumar, Sajjan’s son Ajay, and nephew Sandeep (son of the deceased Surender Jakhar) are spread out across the segment. As for father Balram Jakhar, Sunil says, “He is insisting on coming to campaign, but he is 92 and I don’t want him to exert himself.”
Brother Sajjan Kumar Jakhar is a key strategist, and nephews are poll managers assigned to different areas. Man Friday is PA Sanjeev Trikha.
BY THE WAY
Bagri and Hindi creep into his Punjabi several times as he uses heavy words like “abhipraya” (meaning) once or twice. But the Punjabi word “ragda” (decimation) is among his favourites for the day and is used repeatedly in the appeal to “teach the SAD-BJP a lesson”.