Out of politics for the decade since Manmohan Singh became prime minister, his two half-brothers have suddenly plunged into two opposite sides. Daljit Singh Kohli has joined the BJP, while Surjit Singh Kohli, his elder brother and business partner, has asserted the rest of the family’s commitment to the Congress.
Surjit went along with Amarinder Singh on a roadshow Saturday. The BJP responded by taking Daljit to a rally of its own Sunday, and then to a public meeting of Arun Jaitley in Majitha.
The storm kicked off Friday in Amritsar, last stop on the Punjab itinerary of Narendra Modi. Modi welcomed Daljit telling him the BJP was a party not of membership but of relationships and would take care of his dreams.
Manmohan reacted by saying he was saddened at the decision of his half-brother, while Amarinder dismissed Daljit as “a nonentity” who was “suffering from some kind of depression”. Daljit, for his part, has said, “Amarinder Singh is himself in a depression after I joined the BJP,” says Daljit. “You know how he talks, tu tu karke. Is this the way a person who was once CM talks? Is this how he will talk in Parliament if he gets elected?” Daljit says.
Amarinder blames the “dirty tricks department” of the BJP and says the induction had no significance, and that Daljit is no more than a “showpiece” exhibited on stage along with Modi. Yet Amarinder arrived with Surjit at the press conference where he made these assertions.
The day Daljit joined the BJP, Surjit said he came to know about it through media reports. “What can we do if he has joined the BJP and is campaigning for them?” Surjit said Sunday. “I have been a Congress supporter and so have our other siblings. We have supported the Congress in the past and we will continue to do so in the future.”
And Daljit says, “I joined the BJP because of Jaitley sahib and for the cause of Amritsar, for its development.” He says the PM was not being given a free hand for the last two years and that was another reason he joined the BJP. Asked about the PM’s displeasure, he falls briefly silent but then asserts he will remain with the BJP.
Brothers Surjit and Daljit run joint businesses in auto piston manufacturing, an air hostess training academy (Frankfinn Institute) and garment stores for their own brand, K C Garments. All of it is in Amritsar, the constituency where Jaitley is contesting against Amarinder. The high-profile poll is on April 30.
Daljit Singh’s son Kanwar Kohli, a BSc in economics, says even he was “shocked” to learn about his father joining the BJP. “I was shocked. But, this is for undoing the damage done by the Congress to the image of taiya ji (Manmohan Singh),” says Kanwar. “I have not joined the BJP yet, but I will go with my father.”
Surjit and Daljit are sons of Krishan Kaur, wife of Manmohan Singh’s father Gurmukh Singh. They had another brother, Surinder Singh Kohli, the eldest, since deceased. There is also a sister, married into a family of rice traders in Amritsar. Manmohan Singh was born to Amrit Kaur, the first wife of Gurmukh Singh. Amrit Kaur, who also had five daughters, died when Manmohan was very young.