When Jarnail Singh, then a journalist, hurled a shoe at former Union minister P Chidambaram at a press conference in 2009, SAD-controlled Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) was quick to offer him a job, which he refused. Jarnail had hurled the shoe following Chidambaram’s reply to a question over the CBI’s clean chit to Jagdish Tytler in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case. Avtar Singh Makkar, who was the SGPC president when the apex representative body of Sikhs honoured Jarnail Singh, said, “We did offer him a job. We offered him to join SGPC as media in-charge.”
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Now that the AAP has fielded Jarnail Singh, currently the party’s sitting MLA from Rajouri Garden in Delhi, from Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal’s constituency of Lambi, it would be interesting to watch SAD’s strategy. Back in 2009, Badal himself had termed the shoe-hurling incident as “eye-opener for Congress”. Though SAD is yet to announce its candidate from Lambi, it has been a pocket borough of the Badals and senior Badal candidature from here is a given.
Though Badal, a five-time chief minister who turned 89 on December 8, is battling 10 years of anti-cumbency, setbacks on his panthic turf and mounting criticism over dynastic politics and his family’s business interests in the state, his aides and supporters maintain that Jarnail Singh is a lightweight against the Akali patriarch. Akali leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa, adviser to Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal, terms the candidature of Jarnail Singh from Lambi as a joke. “If [Arvind] Kejriwal is serious, he himself should contest from Lambi. Why is he not?” Sirsa said.
Jagrup Singh Sekhon, a professor of political science at Guru Nanak Dev University, somewhat agrees. “Though people are very angry against the ruling elite in Punjab, I don’t think Jarnail Singh’s candidature from Lambi would spell trouble for Badal. Lambi is an agrarian segment. Here, Sikhs are concerned with a lot many other things, predominantly farming. I do not think Jarnail Singh has many credentials on that front as of now.
Merely being known for hurling a shoe at Chidambaram cannot be a game changer. Had that been a case, H S Phoolka would have won from Ludhiana in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls since he relied heavily on work done by him in his pursuit to get justice for 1984 anti-Sikh riot victims,” Sekhon said. “In Malwa, Kejriwal is a household name. If any upset happens, it could be attributed to Kejriwal alone.”
When contacted, Jarnail Singh said, “Punjab is passing through a very tough phase. State is under a huge debt. There is drugs problem. Farmers are committing suicide, there is unemployment, law and order problem… So, it is my duty to do my bit to save Punjab which is no less than father and mother to me. I am already an MLA [in Delhi. There were talks of my elevation as minister. But, I chose to be in Punjab.” Asked if considered the fight against Badal as an “opportunity or a challenge”, Jarnail said, “Though the political stature of Parkash Singh Badal is very high, the scale of mistakes he has committed is equally high. In the hearts of people, his graph has fallen much below. This is not my election. This is people’s election.”