‘Real Channi exposed…cannot be mascot of Punjab Cong anymore’

What has spurred your reaction on Congress defeat in Punjab?
I do not want my party to compound this mistake as the sycophants are trying to justify their recommendation of (Charanjit Singh) Channi (for the post of chief minister). She (Ambika Soni) is sitting in the Rajya Sabha and trying to pull wool over the eyes of the high command. If he was such an asset, then why was he not invited to the CWC? If he is such a national treasure then why was he not invited to campaign in UP” Punjab’s election was on February 20 and till the time these ended in Uttar Pradesh, there was more than a fortnight. This is a limit to sycophancy…a leader tells the CWC that Channi was an asset. To me, this looks like an attempt to justify her recommendation to make Channi the CM. It was Soni and (former party in-charge for Punjab) Harish Rawat who pleaded his case with the high command. It was Ambika Soni who made Channi the Leader of Opposition (in 2015). I am amazed at her audacity. But the real Channi has been exposed.

In principle, it was a very good decision for Rahul Gandhi to take. He handpicked someone with a poor background and also a Dalit. But this fellow was almost caught red-handed. The party wanted to give a common man to the people by taking power from the hands of an erstwhile royal. That was the message and the intent. But the Enforcement Directorate exposed him (C hanni) within a few days.

Your party has been saying that the ED raids were Centre’s ploy to defame Channi ahead of elections. Are you taking a different line?
I know. He has not gone to jail. But Rs 10 crore was recovered from his nephew. His nephew has not been able to explain Rs 25 crore in his bank account. Politics is all about perception. Amarinder was not seen hobnobbing with (Shiromani Akali Dal president) Sukhbir Badal. Still, it was a perception. In Channi’s case, it was a case of whole clan working as if there was no tomorrow. It was 111 days of amassing wealth that did the Congress in.

Why did you not speak up earlier?
I am now speaking up because I do not want this man forced on the worker, who is demoralised. They will bounce back if we give them credible leadership. You cannot fight corruption with corruption. Now, you need a credible face to give workers the hope that their leader will not sell Congress party. I know it is an unsolicited advice.
I feel guilty and responsible…I should have conveyed to Rahul Gandhi beforehand. I did tell him that I do not accept Channi as my leader. But I did not tell him that even the people of Punjab would not accept him as their leader because I thought it would be taken as a case of sour grapes. I was not even an MLA. I feared, I could be asked to take a walk. I should have been forthright. I should have overcome my inhibition as all these allegations were already floating around.

Do you hold Channi alone responsible for the Congress defeat?
The whole script was written by the then AICC general secretary incharge Harish Rawat who wanted to make Rafale (Navjot Singh Sidhu) as the PPCC chief. It was then that differences surfaced between Rawat and Amarinder. He (Rawat) wanted to make former Speaker Rana Kanwarpal Singh a Cabinet minister. This created problems. He then removed me. The script was enacted by Ambika Soni. She put it all together. And Channi did the rest. Whole thing was at the cost of the Congress.

Having been routed across the country, do you see any hope for Congress in Punjab?
Congress workers who withstood atrocities of Akalis for 10 years, had bounced back (in 2017). They will still bounce back if a credible leadership is given to them. Credibility should be the key word. While appointing CLP leader, I would suggest someone who would not enter into an arrangement with the government, someone who is already not under the shadow of the BJP or the AAP. I recommend that the choice is made by election as they did in 1977 when my father, late Balram Jakhar, was elected CLP leader.

Are you willing to take on any role?
No. I have already said that I have retired. I am out of politics. I am a dyed in wool Congressman. I feel pained if Congress suffers such defeats. I just want it to be saved.
Do you think Congress could have done better had Amarinder continued?
Giving benefit of hindsight, I can say Congress would have got at least 35 to 40 seats under him, if not retained power.

Is your stand on Channi not contrary to Congress high command’s bid to use his dalit status to garner traction at the national level?
Why did that status not take him to UP? He has been removed by people. Look at the percentage of votes. Who has voted in his favour? Congress will be put to test very soon. We have Sangrur Lok Sabha by-election. Then we will have municipal elections. We will have to galvanise workers. No, Channi cannot be the mascot of Punjab Congress anymore.

Do you feel Navjot Singh Sidhu should also be removed as PPCC chief?
It is for the high command to decide. He is not corrupt. But at the same time we cannot have more factionalism. Sidhu has not shown the capability of carrying everybody along.

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