The death of former minister Chaudhary Jagjit Singh on Tuesday has created a void in the Punjab Congress that has lost a prominent Dalit face and a key strategist when the party is gearing up to take on the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) alliance in the 2017 assembly elections.
The senior Congress leader died at the age of 82 following a cardiac arrest on Tuesday morning. It was also his father late Gurbanta Singh’s birth anniversary on Tuesday.
Capt's right-hand man
Termed “man Friday” of Amritsar member of Parliament Captain Amarinder Singh in the Doaba region, Chaudhary started his political carrier as a sarpanch of his native Dhaliwal village in 1960. Carrying forward the rich political legacy of his father Gurbanta Singh, Chaudhary enjoyed a number of plum postings before becoming a member of legislative assembly (MLA) in 1980.
A devout Dalit leader who strived for the welfare of the scheduled castes, Chaudhary was termed a stone hearted Dalit by the general class leaders who would adopt all tactics when it comes to the well-being of the Dalits.
“In the political circles of the Congress, he was termed a leader who believed that dhada (the group to which you belong) matters more than anything. He stood by senior leaders in the party in their good and bad phases,” said former minister Avtar Henry.
Having a distinction to work closely with chief ministers, including Beant Singh, Harcharan Singh Brar and Captain Amarinder Singh, Chaudhary’s stature reached its peak when he was appointed the local bodies, social justice and parliamentary affairs minister by Amarinder in 2002.
He was inducted into the Punjab cabinet for the first time by Beant Singh. He was also the Congress legislative party (CLP) leader before the Congress government came into power in 2002.
Ludhiana city centre controversy
However, his political journey was marred by controversies. Chaudhary was facing a trial in the high-profile Ludhiana City Centre scam along with Amarinder and was once referred as “mother of corruption” by one of his party colleagues.
People close to Chaudhary said he was a devout nationalist who used to greet everybody with “Jai Hind” on while answering phone calls instead of saying hallo.
Congress sources say Chaudhary was restructuring the party in the Kartarpur segment ahead of the 2017 assembly polls and was seen in every rally of the party organised by Amarinder under his mass contact programme.
Chaudhary, who is survived by his two sons and two daughters, had planned a party for his close friends and relatives on August 7 ahead of his granddaughter’s wedding on August 9. His Canada-based son was also scheduled to arrive on August 6. His other son Surinder Chaudhary is active in politics and was chairman of the Jalandhar zila parishad. Family sources say Chaudhary will be cremated on August 6.