Sunil Jakhar, senior Congress leader and former chief of its Punjab unit, has joined rival BJP.
Congress’s coterie has now turned into a gang, he said while addressing the media with BJP chief JP Nadda by his side.
Nadda called it a matter of happiness that a leader with such a vast political experience was joining the BJP. Nadda, who personally appeared on stage to induct the former Congress stalwart into BJP, clearly said that he would play a critical role for BJP in Punjab.
Jakhar was in Delhi since he quit the Congress on Saturday. He had recently indicated that he wanted to remain relevant in Punjab.
Expressing sorrow over breaking ties with Congress, which he called “family”, he said he was sidelined because he pointed out that the party can’t treat Punjab in percentages and divide people over caste. “You can remove Sunil Jakhar from a party post but can’t silence him,” he said while on stage with Nadda.
“I had a 50-year-old relationship with congress, my family has been with the party for three generations since 1972. I considered it family,” he said, claiming that he quit Congress, not because of any personal dispute, but “fundamental issues” with the party. There is an element of casteism in the Congress, but BJP has equality for all, he said.
Jakhar is a prominent non-Sikh face of Punjab and is respected across party lines. He holds sway over many disgruntled Congress leaders.
Jakhar is the BJP’s second big catch after Captain Amarinder Singh allied with BJP. He is likely to help the party in the upcoming assembly polls in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.
Sunil Jakhar’s father, Balram Jakhar, was the Lok Sabha speaker from 1980 to 1989. A former governor of Madhya Pradesh as well, Balram Jakhar was an Indira Gandhi loyalist who also served as agriculture minister in the Narasimha Rao government from 1991 to 1996.
Sunil Jakhar was elected as MLA from Abohar in the Fazilka district for the first time. He was re-elected as MLA in both the 2007 and 2012 Punjab polls. Between 2012 and 2017, he was the leader of the opposition in the state assembly. In 2017, he lost in state polls but was elected as Gurdaspur MP in the Lok Sabha by-poll after the death of Vinod Khanna.
The former Punjab Congress chief had criticised former Chief Minister Channi and termed him a liability for the party after it lost to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab.