Punjab Congress leader Sunil Jakhar today blamed the party’s crushing defeat in the state on the choice of Charanjit Singh Channi, saying that the Chief Minister had been caught with his “hand in the till” when he was brought in to fight the perception of corruption.
“I do not want them to compound this mistake again. The way he was built up as a hero – a guy who was caught with his hand in the till. For a leader you need chaal, chalan, charitra (good conduct, integrity, character). There is nothing which inspires confidence in him. You want to build him as a hero, a mascot? I’m sorry, I don’t accept him,” Mr Jakhar told NDTV, blasting the outgoing Chief Minister in an exclusive interview.
“The Congress worker in Punjab deserves better.”
Weeks before the election, Mr Channi’s nephew Bhupinder Singh Honey was arrested after raids by the Enforcement Directorate revealed a large amount of cash at his home. Honey was accused of making money from illegal sand mining. Mr Channi distanced himself from the allegations.
Firing more truth bombs, Mr Jakhar said there was a perception that the new Chief Minister would get anything done in the limited time that he had and that Mr Channi acted out of greed.
“The perception of this government in the last 111 days was that the whole clan was (Mr Channi’s) working as if there was no tomorrow. Let’s make use of every single day – not to address people’s concern but to address our own need more money. This was the perception that the common man carried. Short of an advertisement in the paper that if we have something to be done, come to us…we’ll do it. This kind of perception did us in,” said the Congress leader.
He continued: “You cannot fight corruption with corruption. (Channi)’s relative was caught red-handed. This man was caught with his hand in the till.”
The party’s disastrous Punjab campaign, he said, was a combination of “compounding one mistake after another” and bad choices driven by senior leaders “misleading” the Gandhis.
The Congress, wracked by infighting in Punjab, lost to Arvind Kejriwal’s eight-year-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in elections last week.
Mr Jakhar said he had hoped the problems would be discussed threadbare in the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting yesterday but instead, he saw “sycophants”.
Reeling off a long list of problems that he said “could have been handled otherwise”, Mr Jakhar said the defeat was “scripted by Harish Rawat”; the former Uttarakhand Chief Minister was Punjab in-charge.
“He came to Punjab with a set agenda,” Mr Jakhar remarked, suggesting that this was to promote Navjot Singh Sidhu, who aggressively demanded top billing in the run-up to the Punjab election and who played a big role in Amarinder Singh’s replacement as Chief Minister by Mr Channi four months before the election.
“I suspected what he was up to. He got his agenda implemented at the cost of bickering. I told Rahul (Rahul Gandhi) ji – he may be in charge of the Punjab Congress but I never accepted him as my in-charge. You can be in charge of the Congress but you cannot be in charge of me,” Mr Jakhar said.
Pointing out that Mr Rawat lost in his own seat in Uttarakhand, Mr Jakhar sneered: “Divine justice has been done – look at the hate he got in Uttarakhand.”
The former Punjab Congress chief also questioned the logic of leaving the question of the party’s Chief Ministerial candidate wide open even after appointing a new Chief Minister.
“After you have nominated Channi, it is insulting to ask who will be Chief Minister. How can you say that? A general fights the war for you and you will appoint another general? This is not the way,” said Mr Jakhar.
Mr Jakhar was also asked about his acerbic post reacting to Mr Channi being described as an “asset” at a Congress post-mortem on Sunday and appearing to target Ambika Soni without naming her.
“An asset – are you joking? Thank God he (Channi) wasn’t declared a ‘National treasure’ at the CWC by the ‘Pbi’ lady who proposed him as CM in first place” – Mr Jakhar tweeted this morning.
“Pbi is Punjabi,” Mr Jakhar said. He did not deny that this “Punjabi lady” could be Ambika Soni, a long-time Rajya Sabha member who was reportedly offered the Chief Minister’s post but recommended Mr Channi for the job.
“Why do you want me to name her? She’s very senior. “
But Mr Jakhar said he believes it is not all over for the Congress in Punjab.
“A ragtag outfit like the Aam Aadmi Party won’t last long. But we have to put up a credible face here if we want to win,” he said.