SAD candidate from Dakha constituency Manpreet Singh Ayali greeting residents of Mandiani village. Gurpreet Singh/HT
Ever since Dakha was de-reserved during delimitation, the major political parties in the state have been grappling to field winnable candidates from this constituency.
After much deliberation, the Congress fielded MLA Jasbir Singh Khangura, a graduate in medicine from Oxford who gave up his British passport to contest the 2007 assembly polls.
The Akalis have brought a first-time candidate Manpreet Singh Ayali, chairman of the Ludhiana Zila Parishad, into the fray.
It is essentially a two-sided contest, with the People’s Party of Punjab’s Daljit Singh Sadarpur needing to cover lot of ground to seriously worry the top two contenders for the seat.
Khangura, 48, popularity called Jassi — the sitting congress MLA from Qila Raipur who created a furore in political circles in the 2007 polls by winning the traditional Akali seat BY defeating Jagdish Singh Garcha — is facing a new challenge in Dakha, which has the habit of throwing surprises.
Of the total 110 villages in Dakha constituency, 22 are from the erstwhile Qila Raipur constituency.
“I will get full support in these 22 villages. About 94% of this constituency is primarily rural while the urban voters are largely concentrated at Mullanpur township,” Khangura said. “I’ve never felt out of place in Dakha; in fact, I feel very much at home here. By now people already know me and about my work and hence I am not new to them.”
Khangura promises voters that he would strive hard to elevate Dakha to a revenue district once the Congress comes to power, so that they do not have to go all the way to Ludhiana to get basic work done. “Though there would be a lot of opposition from Doraha and Jagraon townships, as people from those areas also want a similar status, I will plead your case well,” he says.
He also reminds the people about the “false cases registered against them” in the SAD-BJP tenure. “Look at the wide-scale corruption these Akalis have indulged in,” he said. “How can they think of returning to power on the basis of their misdeeds?”
At a dispensary in Mullanpur run by Christian missionaries, community members demand a separate graveyard for burying their dead. He tries to convince them that in the West, Christians “have also started cremating their dead”.
Suddenly, there is a cold silence.
Khangura quickly changes tack, promising the community a graveyard once he wins the elections.
On another occasion, surrounded by a group of women, he urges them to remember the hit TV serial ‘Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin’, and press the button “in favour of the hand”.
Ayali, 37, on the other hand, is confident that the “development work” carried out by the SAD-BJP would see him through.
“No one can match the kind of money we have spent on development works,” he said.
He claims Khangura had not even visited his own native village, Latala in the last five years. “Most of the time he would be abroad, looking after his business interests,” he told voters.
In a slightly unusual departure from the script of most SAD-BJP candidates, he admits that the government has not “been able to do full justice with the atta-dal scheme as many deserving people might not have received the benefit”. But, he quickly adds, “this alone cannot overshadow our other achievements”.
In his campaign, Ayali also raises the issue of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, slamming the Congress for its alleged role.
In Mandiani village, ladoos are distributed on the SAD candidate’s arrival. It is, however, hard to predict which side in Dakha will be having ladoos on March 6.