In continuing poaching in run-up to the local assembly byelection, the state's ruling alliance on Wednesday lost a former legislator to the main rival.
Gurdev Singh Gill, former member of the legislative assembly (MLA) from Dharamkot, joined the Congress in the presence of former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh at Landheke village in this constituency. Another senior Akali leader, Mehtab Singh, switched over to the same side.
"The entire rank and file of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) feels alienated, since the party sidelined the leaders who had served it with dedication," Gill told reporters here on Wednesday. "Inducting Joginder Pal Jain from the Congress and giving him the party ticket was the final trigger. More leaders wait to join the Congress."
Welcoming Gill into the party, Amarinder said many prominent Akali leaders had contacted him to join the Congress to escape being humiliated by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and his brother-in-law, Bikram Singh Majithia.
Earlier, addressing public meetings in support of party candidate Vijay Sathi at Landheke, Dunneke and other villages nearby, Amarinder said people should ask the Akali leadership who was pocketing the "jathedar jazia" (illegal tax) from farmers in the mandis (grain markets).
"After the Akalis came to power, farmers have to pay special jathedar tax, which is between Rs 10 and 15 a bag, to get their harvest lifted," said the state Congress president. "Compare that with the previous Congress rule. Farmers were never made to wait in the mandis for more than 24 hours, while now they have to wait for days and also bribe officials who are the conduits of Akali jathedars."
"Jazia was punitive tax claimed in medieval ages," said Amarinder. "Now the chief ministers' jathedars have imposed it on farmers. I will not be surprised, if a share from it was going to the Badals."
The former CM said the Moga byelection was an opportunity for voters to register their protest against the incumbent regime. "Once the Akalis are defeated, they might realise that people don't tolerate arrogance and start thinking in terms of the public welfare," he added.
Amarinder also charged the ruling Badal family, including Majithia, with grabbing huge land and almost the entire business of sand, transport, and liquor. Party candidate Vijay Sathi, former Punjab Congress president Lal Singh; and party leaders Rana Gurjit Singh, Darshan Singh Brar, Jeet Mohinder Sidhu, Harminder Singh Gill, Harpal Singh Brar, and Sukhwinder Singh Danny were present.