Three days ago, an audio clip of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal virtually pleading a villager for mandate in a telephonic conversation went viral. The same day, his daughter-in-law, Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, appealed to the masses at a rally here: “Badal Sahib di pagg di laaj rakheo” (keep the dignity of the Badal’s turban).
The Badals have adopted this humble tone in their campaign as the chief minister’s age-old political rival, Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh, has challenged him on his home turf Lambi, which now witnesses a three-cornered contest with Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP’s) Jarnail Singh also harping on the anti-incumbency factor.
In the 2012 polls, Badal defeated his cousin-rival MaheshInder Singh Badal of the Congress by 24,739 votes, and the margin from the assembly segment in 2014 Lok Sabha polls remained 34,219. It was in 2007 assembly polls that the chief minister’s margin was 9,187 against his cousin.
CHECK ON RESENTMENT
The CM’s constituency witnesses a different kind of anti-incumbency, with the traditional Akali vote bank terming the second-rung leaders — Dyal Singh Kolianwali and Tejinder Singh Middukhera — “arrogant men who harassed people, interfere in panchayat elections and never allowed the growth of local leaders”.
Badal, however, tried to tone down the resentment at a rally in Lambi earlier this week saying: “Tuhadi naraazagi jaayaz hai, te mai muaafi mangda haa… (your resentment is justified, and I apologise). This was the occasion when Harsimrat asked voters here to “keep the dignity of Badal Sahib who served Lambi throughout his life”.
Badal spent late evening hours sending emissaries to village compounds that were dotted with flags of either the AAP or Congress. Many landless peasantry lobbies, even individual families, were ferried to Badal village in the night for “close-door meetings” with him. However, Badal’s coterie would not divulge details of such talks.
On January 11, a Sikh youth hurled a shoe at the CM, injuring him in the eye during an election campaign at Ratta Khera village in this constituency. Cops were quoted saying the protester was “hurt because of the sacrilege incidents at Bargadi”. The following day, Badal diverted his election campaign for four days to other constituencies. At Sekhwala village too, a protester raised slogans when Badal was addressing a rally.
CAPTAIN’S TITLE CLASH
On January 18, Amarinder, who is contesting from his home turf Patiala, filed his nomination from Lambi as well, setting a title clash of the state elections. The development made bad news for AAP’s Jarnail who had been, by then, catching all the attention as the CM’s only vocal rival.
Badal’s traditional rival candidates Maheshinder and Gurmeet Singh Khudian were equally happy with Captain’s arrival on the scene as they held the fort for a sweating door-to-door campaign led by Captain’s son Raninder Singh.
At the Badal stronghold suburbs of Killianwali town adjoining Haryana, Raninder sounded struggling and arguing in the streets that are largely dotted with pictures and banners of the SAD.
“Do you want to remain at the lowest ebb, or you also want a better life?” Raninder made a point, opening a free-wheeling discussion to establish his father as “the only saviour of the people of Punjab”.
Captain, however, remained away from Lambi, criss-crossing other constituencies across the state, to finally arrive here with the party’s national vice-president Rahul Gandhi on the last day of the campaign on Thursday.
JARNAIL KEEPS UP PACE
AAP’s Jarnail had caught people’s attention for his being vocal against Badal. This popularity graph was shadowed by the Captain’s entry into the fray, though he kept pace with his consistent campaign till the last day.
Not dithering over the initial media buzz about his vote riddle, Jarnail gradually accomplished his mission of holding corner meetings in all 70 villages of Lambi constituency over a month back, besides party’s national convener Arvind Kejriwal’s impressive show at Lambi.
The local youth have been pitching tents for his meetings, sticking posters with the AAP flags visible in a large number of remote villages mainly inhabited by the poor or landless peasantry.
There were claims that many such villages would give a surprise en-bloc mandate in Jarnail’s favour.