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Explained: Why Jakhar’s letter to Venugopal has stirred up a new storm in Punjab Congress

The letter — written by Sunil Jakhar when he was still PPCC chief — demanded that Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi be sacked from the party. It talks about the Punjab government filing a suit in court against Sodhi for recovery of Rs 1.83 crore.

Written by Kanchan Vasdev | Chandigarh |
Updated: August 3, 2021 1:33:38 pm
Former PPCC president Sunil Jakhar. (Express Photo: Jabir Malhi, File)

A letter by former PPCC president Sunil Jakhar to AICC general secretary K C Venugopal and Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh seeking removal of Cabinet Minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi from the party has taken the state Congress, already grappling with a crisis, by a storm.

What did Sunil Jakhar’s letter say?

The letter — written by Jakhar when he was still PPCC chief — demanded that Sodhi be sacked from the party. It talks about the Punjab government filing a suit in court against Sodhi for recovery of Rs 1.83 crore. The department has also sought criminal action against Sodhi and his family for “committing fraud against the state”. Jakhar has called the recovery suit just the “tip of an iceberg”, both in terms of the amount involved and “more importantly, its political ramifications”.

What is the issue of ‘double compensation’?

Eleven acres of land belonging to Sodhi were acquired in 2013 for the second time. The first time, this land was acquired by the public works department (PWD) in 1962. He was given compensation twice from the government — once in 1962 and again in 2014. He applied for compensation a third time — worth Rs 77 crore — under the new Land Acquisition Act. The matter came to the notice of Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who ordered an inquiry into the case. Jakhar in his letter wrote that Sodhi was able to get “double compensation” by “misrepresenting and withholding facts with the support of the previous SAD-BJP regime”. The Supreme Court had issued a notice to Sodhi recently.

What are the ‘political ramifications’, according to Jakhar?

Jakhar, in the letter, said he feared that if the court ruled in Sodhi’s favour, it would cause incalculable damage to Congress’ image as well as its poll prospects. As farmers from Sangrur and Patran area are protesting to get their compensation enhanced to Rs 70 lakh from Rs 40 lakh per acre being given to them now as their land is being acquired for Delhi-Karta highway, he feels that the Sangrur belt is the most prime area of Punjab, with lands having very high valuations, whereas Mohan Ke Uttar village, where Sodhi’s land had been acquired, is situated in the back of beyond. The present collector rate of agricultural land along the Link Road in this village is Rs 6,72,300 per acre. If Sodhi manages to get Rs 7 crore per acre for his land, then which farmer in Punjab will agree to let their land be acquired for any amount less than this, Jakhar asked in his letter.

How did Akalis get in the picture?

The Akalis have not protested against Sodhi even after the issues were brought out in public. Jakhar has harped on this fact and also that the double compensation issue took place between 2007 and 2017, when Akalis were in power. Jakhar has alleged that it was at Sukhbir Badal’s behest that the PWD chose to ignore that the said piece of land was acquired in 1962 and notifications were also issued on January 31, 1962. The department also chose not to pursue legal remedies against the orders dated 05.10.2007 and 26.11.2015.

Jakhar also asked why the earlier SAD-BJP government went out of its way to help Sodhi, who is considered close to the chief minister. Jakhar has alleged that Sodhi is “Akalis agent”, “a mole” tasked to sabotage Congress from within. In the recent crisis faced by Congress, Sodhi was the main troubleshooter of the CM. Jakhar has mentioned how the recent developments in the sacrilege case had given rise to accusations of quid pro quo between the government and Akalis. The former PPCC chief also brought up the issue of distillery, license of which was given to Sodhi in 2015 during the SAD-BJP government.

What is Sodhi’s take on the letter?

While Rana Sodhi was not available for comment, sources close to him said the letter was an attempt by the “anti-CM lobby” to “weaken Amarinder” as Sodhi was siding with the CM in the face of a rebellion. They said Sodhi had been at the forefront in efforts to bring over many leaders to the CM’s camp.

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