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Beyond Badals and Amarinder, four political families look to regain lost glory in Punjab

Chandigarh: The Punjab assembly elections on 20 February will decide the electoral fortunes not only of the state’s two most prominent families — the Badals and the dynasty of Captain Amarinder Singh, former Maharajas of Patiala — but also of the heirs of those fading clans who once dominated the state’s political space.

The kin of half a dozen former chief ministers of Punjab, and of former top Sikh leaders and leading politicians, are in the fray in these elections. ThePrint profiles four such leaders, and the legacies they seek to uphold or reclaim. 

Adaish Pratap Singh Kairon

Senior Akali leader Adaish Pratap Singh Kairon (62), who is contesting from the Patti seat in the Majha region, is the grandson of former Congress chief minister Partap Singh Kairon — considered one of the most eminent leaders of post-partition Punjab.

The elder Kairon began his career as a leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) before joining the Congress in 1941. Following Partition, he was responsible as rehabilitation minister for managing the huge influx of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan into Punjab, and helping them settle down.

He served as chief minister of Punjab for eight years (1956-1964), before Haryana was carved out of the state in 1966. He is credited with building several modern-day institutions in Punjab and Haryana. However, his family faced allegations of corruption, and although an inquiry exonerated him of the major charges, he resigned as chief minister in 1964. 

He was assassinated in what’s now Haryana the following year, while he was on his way from Delhi to Chandigarh. The assassins, who had a personal grudge against Kairon, were hanged in 1969.

Kairon’s two sons, Surinder Singh and Gurinder Singh, also entered politics, with Surinder serving as both an MLA and an MP. However, while Gurinder remained in the Congress, Surinder joined the SAD and married his son Adaish to Akali Dal patron Parkash Singh Badal’s daughter, Praneet Kaur.

Adaish, an engineer who did his MBA in the US, is a four-time MLA from Patti. He served as food and civil supplies minister in the Badal government from 2012 to 2017. In the upcoming polls, he faces his old opponent, Harminder Singh Gill of the Congress, who defeated him in Patti in 2017.  

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Kanwarveer Singh Tohra

Kanwarveer Singh Tohra is the grandson of Akali stalwart Gurcharan Singh Tohra, who was known as the ‘Pope of the Sikhs’. Kanwarveer  joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on 11 January with his wife.  He is the son of Kuldeep Kaur — Gurcharan Singh Tohra’s adopted daughter — and former Akali minister Harmail Singh. Kanwarveer is now the BJP’s candidate in the Amloh constituency. 

A major figure in Sikh politics, Tohra developed his own rebellious path within the Akali Dal and earned the sobriquet of “forever dissenter”. He served for a record 27 years as president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the body that controls all historical Sikh shrines.  

Considered to be a hardliner, Tohra was seen as soft on Sikh militant groups led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. He was president of the SGPC during Operation Blue Star, the 1984 military operation to flush out militants from the Golden Temple.

Tohra dabbled in electoral politics and was elected to the Rajya Sabha multiple times, although his mainstay remained Sikh religious affairs. His son-in-law, Harmail Singh, won from the Dakala constituency in the 1997 assembly elections and became a minister in Badal’s cabinet.

Badal and Tohra had a falling out in 1998, which led to the former having the latter removed as SGPC president and expelling him from the SAD. Harmail also resigned from Badal’s cabinet. 

Tohra then formed his own party, the Sarv Hind Shiromani Akali Dal. But when both his party and the SAD were defeated in the 2002 assembly elections, Badal and Tohra reconciled and the two parties merged in 2003. Tohra died of a heart attack in 2004.

Harmail unsuccessfully contested the 2002 and 2007 assembly elections from Dakala on an Akali ticket. Meanwhile, Kuldeep Kaur was elected as a member of the SGPC, a post she continues to hold. Their elder son, Harinder Pal, became senior vice president of the Youth Akali Dal.

Kuldeep contested as an SAD candidate in the Patiala Rural constituency in the 2012 assembly elections, but was defeated. The family then joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ahead of the 2017 polls, in which Kuldeep contested from the Sanour seat but lost. The family returned to the Akali fold ahead of the 2019 parliamentary polls, but Kanwarveer joined the BJP in January. 

Kanwarveer, an engineer and MBA graduate, will be contesting elections for the first time.

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Gurkirat Kotli

Gurkirat Kotli (49), the sitting Congress MLA from Khanna, who is fighting to retain his seat, is the grandson of former chief minister Beant Singh.

Beant Singh entered politics after a brief stint in the Army, and rose from the ranks of the Congress to finally reach the top in 1992, when he took over as chief minister. 

Credited with ending decades of militancy in Punjab, Beant Singh paid the price with his own life. He was assassinated by Sikh militants using a human bomb in 1995.

Beant Singh’s eldest son, Tej Prakash, was inducted into the cabinet by the next chief minister, Harcharan Singh Brar, and won from the family seat of Payal several times. But it was his younger son, Swaranjit, who Beant Singh had groomed for politics. However, Swaranjit had died in a car accident in 1985. 

Swaranjit’s son, Ravneet Bittu, was chosen by Rahul Gandhi to contest the parliamentary constituency of Anandpur Sahib in 2009, which he won. He went on to win the Ludhiana Lok Sabha seat in 2014 and 2019. 

Beant Singh’s youngest child, Gurkanwal Kaur, also entered active politics and won the Jalandhar Cantonment seat in 2002. She was a minister in Capt Amarinder’s cabinet during his first term as CM (2002-2007), but was defeated in the 2007 elections.

After 2008, the family’s traditional seat of Payal was converted into a reserved constituency. Tej Prakash’s son, Gurkirat Kotli, contested from Khanna and won as a Congress candidate in 2012 and 2017. Kotli is the name of the village near Payal where Beant Singh’s family settled after Partition.

After the Congress removed Capt Amarinder Singh as chief minister in September last year, Kotli was included in Charanjit Singh Channi’s new cabinet, despite some opposition from within the party due to Kotli’s controversial past. 

Kotli was accused of raping and molesting a French tourist who had visited Punjab in 1994. The charge came to haunt him again last year when the National Commission for Women sought a report on the case from the Punjab government.

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Sandeep Jakhar

42-year-old Sandeep Jakhar, is the youngest member of one of the most prominent Hindu Jat political families in Punjab. Grandson of Balram Jakhar, the eminent farmer leader from Rajasthan who made Punjab his home, Sandeep is contesting as Congress candidate from the family’s pocket borough of Abohar.

Balram Jakhar, a Sanskrit scholar, was mentored by Swami Keshwanand, a social reformer. Jakhar joined the Congress and was first elected to the Punjab assembly in 1972 from Abohar, going on to become a deputy minister. He won the seat again in 1977. Parkash Singh Badal took over as chief minister for the second time that year, and Jakhar was chosen as leader of the opposition. 

An Indira Gandhi loyalist, Jakhar moved to central politics in 1980 as Lok Sabha MP from Ferozepur, and from 1984 to 1989 and 1991 to 1996 from Sikar in Rajasthan. He remains the longest-serving speaker of the Lok Sabha, from 1980 to 1989.

In 1991, he was inducted into the P.V. Narasimha Rao cabinet as agriculture minister. He was elected to the Lok Sabha again from Bikaner in 1998, and served for a year. He was governor of Madhya Pradesh from 2004 to 2009, and died in 2016.

The year Jakhar shifted his focus to central politics, his eldest son, Sajjan, entered active politics in Punjab. Sajjan first became MLA from Abohar in 1980, but lost the seat to BJP in 1985. He wrested it back in 1992, but was defeated in 1997. He also served as the state’s agriculture minister.

Sajjan’s son, Ajay Vir, an agriculturist, heads the Bharat Krishak Samaj, a farmers’ forum. He was chairperson of the Punjab State Farmers’ & Farm Workers’ Commission till last year, but resigned “due to changed circumstances in the state” after Captain Amarinder was removed, and his uncle, Sunil Jakhar, was overlooked for the chief minister’s post.

Balram Jakhar’s youngest son Sunil won the Abohar seat three times consecutively from 2002 to 2012. He served as leader of the opposition from 2012 to 2017. He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Gurdaspur in a 2017 bypoll, and also headed the state Congress until last year, when he was replaced by Navjot Singh Sidhu. He was tipped to be chief minister after Amarinder’s removal, but it wasn’t to be.

Jakhar’s middle son, Surinder, was involved in the cooperative movement. He served as chairman of Asia’s cooperative fertiliser giant, IFFCO, for multiple terms. Surinder was killed while cleaning his gun at his farmhouse in 2011. 

Surinder’s son, Sandeep, was educated at Mayo College, Ajmer and later in Florida. He worked in the US for 10 years before returning to Punjab to enter politics.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

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Source: The Print

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