The political journey of former Congress MP Sajjan Kumar, one of the stalwarts of Jat politics in Delhi, has been full of twists and turns. But the story of his climb up the political ladder, from being a councillor in 1977 to the undisputed leader of his community for more than three decades, is remarkable.
Mr. Kumar, the three-time Member of Parliament from Outer Delhi, took the plunge into politics in the late 1970s when the Capital’s political scene was mostly dominated by Congress leaders Chaudhry Dalip Singh, Heera Singh andDeep Chand Bandhu. Mr. Kumar was quick to register his presence, surprisingly being nominated as the Congress Lok Sabha candidate for Outer Delhi in 1980. Even more astonishing was his victory over Delhi’s first Chief Minister Chaudhary Brahm Prakash.
The stage was set for a long political innings for Mr. Kumar, but the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, and the allegations against him of inciting the mob proved to be an indelible scar on his political career.
Even though Mr. Kumar was pushed into political oblivion post the riots, he managed to hold on to his mass support.
In 1984, the Congress chose Jat leader Choudhary Bharat Singh as its Lok Sabha candidate for Outer Delhi instead of Mr. Kumar and the former registered a landslide victory. The Congress again pinned its hopes on Mr. Singh against Janata Dal leader Tarif Singh in 1989, but Mr. Singh lost the election. Mr. Kumar was considered a close confidante of Sanjay Gandhi. He continued to enjoy the support of local leaders and the cadres even while Mr. Singh represented Outer Delhi for five years.
In 1991, the Congress was left with no option but to bet on Mr. Kumar again. He delivered by defeating Bharatiya Janata Party’s Sahib Singh Verma, who later went on to become the face of Jat leadership in the saffron party and Delhi’s Chief Minister. Mr. Kumar, however, lost to BJP’s Krishan Lal Sharma in 1996 and 1998.
In 1999, the Congress dumped Mr. Kumar for Deep Chand Sharma, who lost to BJP’s Prof. Verma. In 2004, Mr. Kumar and Prof. Verma came face-to-face in an electoral battle of two Jat stalwarts and the former emerged as the clear winner.
Mr. Kumar was announced as the Congress candidate for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, but his party was forced to change its mind at the last moment owing to the Sikh community’s anger over the decision. Jarnail Singh, a Sikh journalist, threw a shoe at then Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram at a press conference in Delhi, expediting the action against Mr. Kumar.
Mr. Kumar lost the candidature after the incident, but not his say in the party. Mr. Kumar’s younger brother Ramesh Kumar was then announced as the party’s candidate from South Delhi and emerged the winner with a huge margin. Mr. Kumar is not as politically active as before, but he continues to wield his influence over the Jat-dominated areas spread across North-West, West and South Delhi Parliamentary constituencies.
Usually, the political career of someone embroiled in a serious controversy is thought to be over. But Mr. Kumar continues to hold his political ground and is now seeking a ticket for his son Jag Pravesh from Sangam Vihar. Being accessible to cadres and fighting tooth and nail for the leaders of his camp are some of the characteristics which persons close to him say distinguish Mr. Kumar from others.
His support base is more pronounced in unauthorised colonies and jhuggi-jhonpri clusters, which have traditionally been Congress strongholds. As for the large number of Jat-dominated villages in the Capital, sources say many of them do not see him as a prominent community leader. But with the colonies having more votes, that has had a limited impact.
The trifurcation of the Outer Delhi Lok Sabha constituency, which was once the largest Parliamentary constituency in the country, dealt a severe blow to the dominance of Jat politics in Delhi. Moreover, with the influx of migrants, the demographics of the constituencies have also changed and migrant groups like Poorvanchalis have come to have a greater say in regional politics. With the Jat-dominated Assembly constituencies now spread over three Parliamentary constituencies, it may no longer be possible for any community leader to assume the stature once held by Mr. Kumar.