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With no alliances, Punjab heads for four-way electoral battle

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With no alliances, Punjab heads for four-way electoral battle

Chandigarh, May 31 (IANS) The border state of Sikh-dominated Punjab, where the BJP and its former ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) going solo, is heading for a four-way fight on all 13 parliamentary seats with 328 candidates in the fray.

On seats like Khadoor Sahib and Faridkot (reserved), the entry of jailed Sikh radical Amritpal Singh, head of ‘Waris Punjab De’ who is locked in an Assam jail under the National Security Act, and Sarabjit Singh, the son of one of the assassins of prime minister Indira Gandhi, respectively, both as Independents, has swayed a ‘radical’ wave.

Also in the fray is sitting MP and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) President Simranjit Singh Mann, a proponent for a separate Sikh homeland, from Sangrur, once the traditional bastion of AAP leader and Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann. AAP lost this seat in 2022 by-poll, just three months after coming to the helm.

Also, this is the first election in the state in a long time that two stalwarts — Akali patriarch Parkash Singh Badal and two-time chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who was unceremoniously removed by the Congress from the CM’s post and later joined the BJP in September 2022 — missing from the political landscape.

While Badal is no more, Capt Amarinder Singh has even skipped Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first rally in his hometown Patiala from where his wife and four-time MP Preneet Kaur is in the fray.

State’s main Opposition Congress, the ruling AAP, the BJP and the Akali Dal in month-long high-octane electioneering tried to build up momentum on issues like the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, apprehensions over subversion of the Constitution, farmers’ issues, sharing of river waters and reopening of Indo-Pak trade apart from issues of infrastructure development, especially in border areas, drugs, law and order effective reinforcement, declining productivity both in industry and agriculture and civic problems.

Several Sikh issues, including heavy cut off in the blacklist of Sikh foreign nationals and the reopening of a corridor to visit Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara, among the holiest of holy shrines believed to be the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev, by the BJP-led Centre also remained dominant issues on the religious side.

Unlike many other states, Punjab has had no exclusive vote banks based on caste, despite being the home turf of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram and having a Dalit population of 32 per cent.

Of 52 candidates declared by the BJP, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal, 14 are turncoats.

Among the turncoats fielded by the BJP, which has been going solo for the first time since 1996, are sitting MPs, Preneet Kaur (from Patiala), Ravneet Bittu (Ludhiana) and Sushil Rinku (Jalandhar reserved) and former state minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi (Ferozepur), all once in the Congress.

Likewise, three-time Akali Dal legislator Manjit Singh Manna Mianwind is the BJP’s candidate from Khadoor Sahib and Gejja Ram Valmiki, who switched loyalties to the BJP from the Congress, is in the fray from Fatehgarh Sahib.

Among the defectors fielded by AAP are sitting Congress legislator Raj Kumar Chabbewal from Hoshiarpur (reserved) and former legislators Gurpreet Singh GP and Pawan Tinu. While Gurpreet Singh is the Congress turncoat and is contesting from Fatehgarh Sahib, Tinu, who jumped ship from the Akali Dal, is trying luck from Jalandhar.

However, Congress has reposed faith in three turncoats. They are four-time legislator Jeet Mohinder Singh Sidhu from Bathinda, Amarjit Kaur Sahoke from Faridkot and ex-MP Dharamvira Gandhi from Patiala.

The Akali Dal has reposed faith in former Congress MP Mohinder Singh Kaypee from Jalandhar.

Among the noticeable turncoats is BJP’s Jalandhar candidate Rinku who has switched loyalties twice in a year.

A Congress rebel Rinku joined AAP after being expelled from the previous party for alleged “anti-party activities” in April 2023 and won the subsequent by-poll in Jalandhar, which was necessitated due to the death of Congress MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary, by a margin of 58,691 against the Congress’ Karamjit Kaur, the wife of Chaudhary.

Karamjit Kaur, who is not in the fray, too jumped in the run-up to parliamentary polls and joined the BJP.

The interesting contests are on Congress strongholds Amritsar, Jalandhar and Patiala seats, Akali Dal bastion Bathinda and Hindu-dominated Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur seats.

Also in a last-minute bid, AAP is aiming to re-win Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s bastion Sangrur that was won by Sikh radical Simranjit Singh Mann in June 2022 by-poll necessitated following the resignation of Mann.

The BJP is largely banking on Prime Minister Modi’s four rallies that it believes pivotal in swaying and consolidating votes, particularly in urban Hindu-dominated segments.

Political observers told IANS that AAP aims to repeat its 2022 assembly success of sweeping 92 seats in the House of 117, while the main Opposition Congress and the Akali Dal look to regain ground. In the 2022 polls, the Akali Dal was reduced to three seats.

Chief Electoral Officer Sibin C said the state has 2,14,61,739 voters, comprising 1,12,86,726 men, 1,01,74,240 women and 773 transgender voters.

According to him, 538,715 voters belong to the 18-19 age group, who will be casting their votes for the first time.

Similarly, 189,855 voters are aged above 85 years. The total number of ‘Divyang’ voters is 158,718.

For the 13 Lok Sabha seats, a total of 24,451 polling stations will be set up, with 16,517 in villages and 7,934 in cities. In Punjab, 100 per cent photo identity cards (EPIC) have been made.

In 2019, the BJP in alliance with the Akali Dal had contested three Lok Sabha seats (Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur), while the latter contested the remaining 10 seats.

At that time, the state ruling Congress had won eight seats — Amritsar, Faridkot, Anandpur Sahib, Jalandhar, Khadoor Sahib, Ludhiana, Fatehgarh Sahib and Patiala seats — while the Akali Dal won Bathinda and Ferozepur and the BJP Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur seats. AAP won from Sangrur.

Punjab recorded a voter turnout of 65.96 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at gulatiians@gmail.com)

 

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