Building bridges that unite, divide too
FIGHTING FIT Jakhar seems to be at home on the new turf but he has to contend with unenviable legacy of ‘Pullan-wala Khanna’ and detractors within Congress and opposition who brand him an outsider; also, ruling party chief had little time to meet high exp
CHANDIGARH The reluctant politician is no more just a keeper of his father’s legacy. After emerging from the shadows of two back-to-back poll defeats, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar, 64, is guarding his new turf Gurdaspur rather fiercely.
But it’s miles away from his home seat, Abohar, which he lost in last state polls after a hat-trick. Also, his landslide victory in October 2017 bypoll has given him little time to live up to the expectations. No wonder Jakhar is building bridges, literally, to shed the outsider tag .
He has to contend with the unenviable legacy of actor and four-time MP Vinod Khanna, who had earned the moniker of ‘Pullan-wala Khanna’ for inaugurating some key bridges. Jakhar claims Khanna only inaugurated the bridges, not made them happen. “But he enjoys goodwill in Gurdaspur,” he adds. It also basked in his stardom. :
IT’S RAINING FUNDS
On his part, Jakhar claims credit for getting five high bridges sanctioned by the state government and a railway overbridge at Pathankot by the Centre. But Swaran Salaria, who is lobbying for the BJP ticket after losing to Jakhar in the bypoll, disputes his claims. “The bridges were sanctioned by the previous state government before Jakhar became an MP and the ROB is being executed by the railways,” Salaria says. Jakhar buttresses his claim by showing that the fund allocation figured in last year’s state budget.
He also lists the ₹2,793 Shahpur Kandi project as his biggest achievement. “The CM, on my request, went to meet Union minister Nitin Gadkari and the project has finally taken off,” he says.
Not only CM Amarinder Singh but Jakhar’s loyalists in the cabinet too have been generous in meeting his demands for roads, high bridges, sugar mills and degree colleges. But he also faces charge of being partial to assembly segments of a few ministers and MLAs.
Arvind Sekhri, a medicine wholesaler in Batala, says large areas of their town are in knee-deep water and Jakhar has done nothing to help its residents. “In areas like Dharampura, patients can’t reach the civil hospital and the dead the mortuary. Why will Batala vote for Jakhar,” Sekhri asks. In Jakhar’s list, Batala got a new sugar mill though he could not get a package to revive its foundry industry.
THE WAR WITHIN
Before the poll battle, Gurdaspur is witnessing a gripping social media war. A video shows Youth Congress leader Surinder Bedi requesting the party high command to field a local candidate saying Jakhar does not have either home or office in the district.
During an internal meeting on Friday, former minister Raman Bhalla opposed Jakhar’s renomination saying he won as president of the ruling party but will be judged for what he has done for Gurdaspur as MP. Just the ammunition, Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa, former Gurdaspur MP, needs to stake a claim to the seat for himself or wife.
Jakhar says he has bought a home in Pathankot and opened offices in Gurdaspur and Pathankot towns. “I am at the railway ministry almost every week with list of demands,” he adds. But his rivals say he has not been able to resolve Pathankot’s traffic woes due to level train crossings.
Projects sanctioned under his MPLAD funds too are racing against time. Nearly ₹11.8 crore of his entitlement of ₹15 crore — ₹5 crore unspent by Khanna were added to his kitty — have been released to give 50 villages swanky sports parks.
“Nearly 70% of my funds are going to rural areas. While ₹35 lakh per park will come from my MPLAD share, the labour will be paid from MNREGA. Each park will have a women’s corner, open gyms for youth and a kids’ corner, with solar lighting and toilets. We will also provide furniture in schools ,” Jakhar says.
He also had luck on his side. With India and Pakistan opening their borders to build the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, sleepy Dera Baba Nanak segment is all set to wake up to new possibilities. But it is not development that ‘Majhails’, as people of the Majha belt are called, vote for. “They love a dare. And Jakhar has exposed the Badals on sacrilege and police firing incidents during their rule. It has touched a chord with both Sikh and Hindus. He is raising state’s issues both inside and outside Parliament,” minister Sukhjinder Randhawa says.
In the Parliament, his strategy was more suave. He brought MPs of state’s political parties together to voice Punjab’s concerns .
But the Jakhar family scion, his father Balram Jakhar was two-time Lok Sabha speaker and MP governor, knows bypolls are a ruling party’s outing. And between the two polls, then and now, many of his political detractors have turned sworn enemies.
› The bridges were sanctioned by the previous state government before Jakhar became an MP and the ROB is being executed by the railways. SWARAN SALARIA, BJP leader › People of Gurdaspur are feeling cheated after electing Jakhar. They are only seeing announcements of projects in the newspapers. SHERRY KALSI, AAP district president