They call themselves the ‘Chelsea girls’. And as luck would have it, all four sisters and cousins who were studying together at the Convent of Jesus and Mary school at Chelsea, Shimla, are now married into political families — MLA Preneet Kaur to Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh, Preneet’s sister Geetinder to SAD (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann, Muktsar MLA Karan Brar became daughter-in-law of former Punjab CM Harcharan Singh Brar and her sister Haripriya married Malwinder Singh, Amarinder’s younger brother. Preenet and Karan also share a common maternal great grandfather!
In the 2012 state polls, Karan Brar staked her claim to the assembly seat of her husband, late Kanwarjit Brar (Sunny Brar), when he was battling cancer. Barely two days before the elections results announced Karan a winner, she lost her husband to cancer. This time, she again has been named as Congress candidate from Muktsar.
VILLAGE SARPANCH TO CHIEF MINISTER
For the Brars, the road to success goes through their native village, Sarai Naga, in Muktsar. Harcharan Singh Brar rose to become the chief minister of Punjab from the sarpanch of Sarai Naga, the village where Sikh guru Angad Dev was born. Later Sunny Brar and his eldest son, Tegbir, too became its sarpanch. Now, it is Karan’s youngest son, Karanbir who is leading it while her second son, Harsimran, is running a dairy project in the village after training in Italy as a dairy consultant.
But the Brar political dynasty is not just about the men but stronger women. Harcharan started the family’s political innings after winning the Muktsar assembly seat in 1957 and became the deputy minister of irrigation in the government of CM Partap Singh Kairon after he won it again in 1962. But the seat got reserved in 1967, forcing Harcharan to contest from Gidderbaha where he defeated now CM Parkash Singh Badal with a margin of 52 votes. In 1972, the dynasty got its first matriarch in Harcharan’s wife, Gurbinder Kaur, who debuted in Punjab politics from Malout. It was not just the Brar political legacy that Gurbinder had inherited but also that of Kairons — she was daughter of Kairon’s brother Jaswant Singh. In a clash of two Brar clans, she defeated former Congress MP Jagmeet Brar’s father, Gurmeet Brar.
In 1977, Muktsar seat got de-reserved but Congress was reeling under the aftershocks of the Emergency imposed by former PM Indira Gandhi in 1975. The Brars made their son Sunny Brar, the first Punjab Youth Congress president, to fight his first election as Harcharan had been appointed the governor of Orissa (now Odisha). Sunny made a winning start by defeating Gurmeet Brar. In 1980, Gurbinder moved to the Lok Sabha after winning Faridkot and Harcharan returned to Muktsar seat. Gurbinder fought the Muktsar seat in 1985 and became the leader of Opposition in Punjab assembly. It was her last election and Harcharan fought the 1992 polls from Muktsar and went on to become CM after Beant Singh was assassinated in 1995.
DOWNTURN, MISFORTUNES, FAMILY FEUDS
But Harcharan’s rise to stardom was short-lived. In 13 months of taking over, he faced a revolt from within Congress led by Rajinder Kaur Bhattal who succeeded him as CM in 1996. But the family kept its hold over the Muktsar assembly and Faridkot parliamentary seats swinging them between the husband (Harcharan), wife, son and daughter — Harcharan’s daughter Kamaljit (Babli) Brar lost the Faridkot seat twice, the second time to Sukhbir Badal in 1994 — and finally the daughter-in-law in 2004 when Karan Brar, who says she was made the ‘sacrificial lamb’, lost to Sukhbir. Then after, the Brars lost claim to Faridkot, Harcharan lost his last election from Muktsar in 2002 and Sunny won the Muktsar seat in 2007 but lost his battle to cancer in 2012.
In run up to 2012 elections, Karan was already a celebrity of sorts — as the richest candidate in the 2012 polls! She rubbishes the ‘distinction’. “Do you mean I am richer than Sukhbir Badal? The only difference is I am honest and declared my assets, including the rubies and diamond set. As for the Louis Voitton bag, the media went gaga over during my poll campaign, it was picked up from New York during a sale,” she laughs.
The riches have also embroiled Karan in a family feud over property with sister-in-law Babli Brar. Between her three sons, however, there is no fight for who takes the legacy forward. “My eldest son, Tejbir, is a stud farmer and is looking after the family business of horse breeding. My middle son, Harsimran, is a dairy consultant. My youngest son, Karanbir, who is sarpanch of Sarai Naga, will take to politics,” Karan says. But the battle for keeping the legacy may not be an easy one. Karan’s seat has been finally declared after a delay over “unfavourable” survey reports. The Brars, say their political rivals in Congress, have “lost the connect” with the masses. As the grand-old party shuns dynastic politics for its own survival, the family name and claim may no longer be enough.