More than three months after the main political test, all major parties in Punjab will try outscoring each other to come out with flying colours during the supplementary exam scheduled to be held on Thursday in the form of Sangrur by-poll. The result of the ballot-battle, expected to witness a multi-cornered contest, will be announced on Sunday (June 26).
For the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), bye-election to Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency is more than a matter of prestige with the party going all out to ensure it emerges victorious by retaining the seat for the third consecutive time. Moreover, the byelection would be a litmus test to check AAP’s popularity, that romp home 92 of the total 117 seats in February polls, and also that of its policies and decisions during the past three months.
For the state’s traditional political parties — the Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the bypoll would be more like a battle for political survival, especially with the comparatively young AAP sweeping the conventional outfits from Punjab’s political scene.
The opposition parties are banking on the recent incidents related to law and order to attack the ruling AAP, especially the broad daylight killing of globally-renowned Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala.
The principal opposition party, Congress, is banking on the young gun — Dalvir Singh Goldy — the former MLA from Dhuri who, this time, unsuccessfully contested against Bhagwant Mann during February assembly polls. The party, making a last pitch to seek votes, attacked the ruling AAP over the killing of Sidhu Moosewala, who had joined the Congress in December last and even unsuccessfully contested assembly polls from Mansa.
Congress, which is crumbling brick by brick in Punjab, tried to make Moosewala’s killing an emotional issue against AAP government but, it seems, the grand old party could not achieve much success. Except the state party president, the absence of party MPs, senior leaders like former Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, former Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, among others gave enough indications of the party’s sincerity to contest the polls.
State’s main regional party, SAD, is going back to woo its major vote base by harping on the panthic issue of releasing the Bandi Sikhs (Sikh prisoners), languishing in jails across the country even after completing their terms. So much so, the party has fielded sister of Khalistan-supporter and one of the assassins of former Chief Minister Beant Singh, Balwant Singh Rajoana, as “joint panthic candidate”.
Akali Dal, this time, solely focussed its campaign over the Sikh detenues, with even the pictures of party patriarch Parkash Singh Badal, and its president Sukhbir Singh Badal, and other senior leaders missing from the party posters across the constituency. It is believed that the party wanted to win over its panthic votebank to make a comeback in the state’s political scene.
At the same time, the saffron party, with several Congress leaders coming in its fold, is trying to increase its footprints in the border state, rather than ensuring a win. For bypoll, it has fielded former Congress leader and ex-MLA from Barnala Kewal Singh Dhillon. Even as the BJP tried to portray Dhillon as Sikh face, a wave of resentment can be felt across the party cadre. In fact, pro-Dhindsa group, led by Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, also stayed away.
Adding another dimension to the multi-cornered contest, Khalistan-ideologue and former MP from Sangrur Simranjeet Singh Mann has also thrown his hat in the electoral ring from Sangrur. Interestingly, Mann has been receiving good response in the constituency’s rural areas which may be a cause of worry for other outfits. Political observers even went on to maintain that it would not be wrong to say that main contest would be between the ruling AAP and Simranjeet Singh Mann of SAD (Amritsar-Mann).
The picture that emerges after visiting some of the assembly segments under the Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency shows that the ruling AAP is facing severe criticism for its three-month tenure, with the elected representatives from the constituency being the main culprits. People complained that the local MLAs, after coming to power, switched to new mobile numbers and became inaccessible, and completely out of touch with the electorate.
At the same time, the opposition has largely targeted AAP over the allegations of deteriorating law and order situation in the state, coupled with the delay in fulfilling the pre-poll promises of providing free units of power, Rs 1000 to all 18-plus women, among others.
AAP, to claim the seat for the record third time, has infused all energy with the party supremo Arvind Kejriwal also holding a road-show for the party candidate and first-timer Gurmail Singh — party’s district unit in-charge and sarpanch of Gharchon village. Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, who won the seat twice in 2014 and 2019, along with a team of Cabinet Ministers and MLAs extensively campaigned for party candidate holding a series of road-shows across the constituency for almost a week.
Amidst the belief that AAP’s popularity has reached its peak especially due to public ire following Moosewala’s brutal murder in the neighbouring Mansa district, the ruling party seem to have make an edge with the opposition parties marred with divisions in their rank and file.
Sangrur Lok Sabha seat fell vacant after Bhagwant Mann contested the February 20 Assembly polls from Dhuri and won. The Sangrur constituency was earlier represented by Bhagwant Mann. Of the remaining 12 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, the Congress has eight MPs, while two each are of the BJP and SAD.
Interestingly, Sangrur is known as the hinterland of Punjab’s Malwa belt — the epicentre of several socio-economic movements. In fact, it is also known for taking everyone by surprise as far as electoral politics is concerned. In 2019, when the entire country was swept off its feet by the Modi wave, AAP’a Bhagwant Mann survived and won Sangrur constituency — becoming the only MP from the party in the Lok Sabha.
16 candidates, 15.69L voters
Sangrur parliamentary constituency has a total of 15,69,240 eligible voters — including 8,30,056 male, 7,39,140 female, and 44 transgenders. A total of 16 candidates — 13 men and three women — are in the fray.