The BJP candidate from Karnal, Ashwini Kumar Chopra, is a multi-faceted personality.
A resident of New Delhi, Chopra, also known as Minna, 57, who owns and edits Punjab Kesari, Delhi, is a socialite and a former cricketer.
Hailing from the family of victims of Punjab terrorism, Chopra boasts of his proximity to the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and other party stalwarts.
“I am close to several top BJP leaders and it was Modi’s charisma that encouraged me to accept the party’s offer to contest from Karnal. I am a Punjabi and wife Kiran belongs to a Brahmin family while the eldest son Aditya is married into a Gupta family,” he says while hinting at his family’s ability to woo voters from various communities.
On Thursday, Chopra, a political greenhorn, got up at his usual 8.30 am. Party activists, including veteran BJP leader Prof Ganeshi Lal, were seen waiting outside Chopra’s Model Town house.
“While all other candidates have started campaigning, we are wasting our time while waiting for him. Probably being the editor of a newspaper, he is in the habit of keeping people waiting,” said a visibly irritated senior BJP leader in a lighter vein.
However, the BJP candidate said he had quit attending parties and alcohol and was focusing on a vegetarian diet and exercise to remain fit.
His grandfather and Hind Samachar group founder Lala Jagat Narayan, a freedom fighter, and father Romesh Chander were shot dead in Punjab for not toeing to the diktats of militants.
Both Lala and his son were Congress MPs from Punjab but parted ways with the party during the Emergency. Chopra and his family have the Z-category security as they apprehend a grave threat to their lives from terror organisaitons.
Born and brought up in Jalandhar, Chopra graduated in commerce from DAV College from his hometown and then attained a diploma in mass communication from Panjab University, Chandigarh.
Chopra was a leg spinner and captained the Punjab Ranji team.
“He was the favourite grandson of the Lala and the family newspaper made him popular. Even if he scored 10 runs or took a single wicket in a match, Ashwini got prominence in the family-owned dailies,” said a source.
During Emergency, Lala and Chander were arrested and Chopra had to take over the Jalandhar-based family newspaper business. “Those were harsh days as the government cut off the power supply and did not allow us to use generators and gagged our publications,” said Chopra.
After Emergency, Chopra flew to the US to study journalism and started working on San Francisco Chronicle. Family sources said Lala was annoyed on hearing his grandson’s plans of settling abroad. “Lala flew to the US and slapped Ashwini at his Chronicle office and took him back in the next available flight. Ashwini was dear to Lala. Things took a turn for the worse as a family feud broke out after the murder of Romesh. The influential Punjab family indulged in a legal battle over property,” said a source.
Ashwini terms Lala as the most inspiring personality in his life, whom both society and political class failed to understand.
“An ardent Arya Samaji, Lala was a strong votary of a united Punjab and urged people to prefer Hindi as their first language during the division of Punjab on language basis. He did not oppose Punjabi but he could not put forward his stand with clarity and a section of politicians misinterpreted his stand for their own benefit,” says Chopra.
“Few know that my grandfather was a close aide of Subhas Chander Bose and helped Netaji sneak into Russia. The British government put Lalaji in the Lahore fort jail,” he said.
The mere mention of cricket brings a twinkle in his eyes and he starts discussing his favourite game. “I played with Bishan Singh Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar and Vivian Richards in firstclass matches. I wanted to pursue cricket but the imposition of Emergency changed things and I joined the newspaper business,” he says.
BJP sources say that currently, around more than 100 employees from his publication are engaged in publicity, election management and other electioneering affairs.
“Please take it as a case of journalism at stake against the Congress regime and all reporters should help us in this electoral battle,” his wife Kiran, a known socialite, urged this reporter before the interview.