Sunil Jakhar took charge as the new president of the Punjab Congress on Wednesday with notes of caution, both for his party and officers running the government. It was the first official function of the Congress after the new government took over on March 16.
While some speakers tried to sing peans to Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, crediting him for leading the party to a stupendous victory, others, including Jakhar, had a different message — the crown should not sit easy on the head.
Former minister and senior vice-president of the Punjab Congress Lal Singh, who was anchoring the low-key ceremony, dubbed the party’s victory in the state “nothing less than a miracle”.
“He (Amarinder) is a miracle man. We were routed in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. Punjab is the only salvation for the Congress. For the first time in the state’s history, the Congress was able to win 77 seats. He (Amarinder) defeated BJP’s number two, Arun Jaitley, the most powerful man in the BJP after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, from Amritsar in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. One man has made all these miracles possible,” Lal Singh said.
Though Rajya Sabha MP Ambika Soni too said “Punjab has kept Congress alive”, but she credited party’s every worker for the victory. All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in-charge of Punjab, Asha Kumari, did not mince words on who appointed Jakhar and what was his role. “Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has appointed him to shoulder a big responsibility as whenever a party forms government in a state, the attention towards party suffers,” she said.
- Jakhar’s first words on his appointment that he would be a bridge between the party and government, seemed to be proving true on ground zero. At the party’s headquarters in Chandigarh on Wednesday, hundreds of workers had lined up to meet the new chief. Ironically, as the leaders thanked workers and the CM asked them to gear up for municipal polls, they were made to stand outside as the venue was bursting at its seams with people.
- After the CM’s security paraphernalia left with him, they literally gatecrashed into the office. The door’s hinge of Jakhar’s office came off as workers mobbed him for selfies. The CM had recently held three-hour long meetings with sets of MLAs from each district as disenchantment grew among them over having “no say” in the government. As the “bridge”, pacifying restless party leaders, MLAs and workers will also be Jakhar’s biggest challenge.
Unlike every leader who recounted Jakhar’s family legacy for his appointment, AICC secretary in-charge of Punjab Harish Chaudhary, Rahul’s close aide, made no allusion to it while saying why Jakhar was chosen for the job. “His performance as the leader of Opposition was laudable. It was even more laudable when he was not on the post,” he said.
Jakhar started by thanking party president Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Amarinder for bestowing the honour and responsibility on him. “You made me Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader and now the state chief. You have bailed out both the party and Punjab with your able leadership,” he said.
But he soon sounded notes of caution. “It is not the time to celebrate our victory. It is Punjab’s tryst with destiny. We have to deliver all that we promised to the people of Punjab. We have a long battle ahead and have to pull up our socks,” he said. He then went on to caution the civil and police officers on public dealings. “The politicisation of police has gone so deep that even their thinking has been coloured in blue (Akali colour code). They will have to become people-friendly,” he said.
Concluding the ceremony, Amarinder said Jakhar speaks his mind and their association goes back a long away to their fathers. “We will fulfil our promises but we cannot clean the filth of 10 years (Akali-BJP government’s regime) in seven weeks. It will take more time. They have also left us with a legacy of debt, which has reached nearly ₹2.5 lakh crore,” he said. The CM then asked party workers to ensure they win each and every municipal council and corporation in the elections.