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

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - HTPUNJAB - Sukhdeep Kaur [email protected]­dus­tan­times.com

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.

RU­RAL CON­NECT

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

Gur­daspur

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