The Punjab Congress received a humiliating blow on Friday when its three-time legislator Jeetmohinder Singh Sidhu quit the Vidhan Sabha and switched to the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) with former minister Malkit Singh Birmi.
Engineered by deputy chief minister and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal, the latest poaching of Congress leaders before the Lok Sabha elections is aimed at not just rattling the party. At the core of this defection is the SAD's primary objective of consolidating its position in Bathinda Lok Sabha contest, where sitting member of Parliament (MP) Harsimrat Kaur Badal will face a major challenge at the hustings from People's Party of Punjab president Manpreet Singh Badal, who has the Congress support.
Quitting over Manpreet
"Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa and the central party leadership have betrayed the party workers in Punjab by joining hands with Manpreet," Sidhu, 50, who was elected from the Talwandi Sabo assembly segment said, adding that he was quitting the Congress because its move to go with Manpreet was "suicidal".
"This is the most dangerous and uncalled-for decision the Congress has taken, and it will be the last nail in its coffin," said Sidhu, while Birmi said he had severed his three-decade association with the party after feeling "suffocated". Sidhu is second sitting MLA of the Congress who has switched to the SAD after two-time Moga legislator Joginder Pal Jain resigned in December 2012. Now Jain is Akali MLA.
Sidhu promised bypoll ticket
Addressing a press conference inside the Vidhan Sabha on Friday, SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal said that Sidhu would be Akali candidate in the Talwandi Sabo by-election. The significance lies in the fact that he had polled 53,130 votes in the February 2012 assembly elections, while the opposing SAD candidate had polled 45,206.
Sidhu, a prominent leader in the Malwa region, was once a confidant of former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh. Sukhbir welcomed Sidhu and Birmi into the party and said it would be a "major development" in Punjab politics.
In the Vidhan Sabha, speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal said that he had received and accepted Sidhu's resignation as MLA. "Joining the SAD," said Sidhu, "was like homecoming. Nobody could be happier."
Sidhu accused state Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa of furthering personal interests. "The Congress leadership is indecisive," said Sidhu, "and Bajwa takes unilateral decisions."
"The decision to support Manpreet was without the consent of the Punjab Congress MLAs, particularly those from the Malwa region," he said, adding that the Congress had tried to engineer defection in the PPP in the run-up to the assembly elections in 2012 and now it was joining hands with Manpreet, who alone was responsible for the defeat of many of its candidates.
SAD's prize catches
October 2013:Avtar Singh Brar, Malwa's veteran Congress leader and former education minister, ends four-decade association with the party
August 2013: Ravinder Singh Sandhu "Babbal', two-time Congress legislator, after losing the 2012 assembly election as rebel independent candidate
August 2013:Ajit Singh Shant, Former Congress MLA, after losing in 2012 by just 591 votes to Akali candidate Rajwinder Kaur
May 2013: Amarjeet Kaur, People's Party of Punjab's leader who contested from Jaitu (reserved) in 2012 after leaving the Congress before the assembly elections
March 2013:Dr Raj Singh, Member of PPP executive committee who contested Jalalabad assembly seat
December 2012: Joginder Pal Jain, two-time Congress MLA from Moga, also quits Vidhan Sabha
October 2012: Harbans Lal, former Congress minister, three-time MLA, one of the party's mainstays in Fatehgarh Sahib
October 2012: Jaswinder Singh Kussa, Ajaib Singh Bahona and Malkiat Singh Khaee, members of PPP's general council
September 2012: Mangat Rai Bansal, former Congress MLA with hold over Mansa district; elected in 2007 from Budhlada, lost to Aklali Janmeja Singh Sekhon in 2012 elections from Maur, still polling more votes than PPP chief Manpreet Badal
September 2012: Joginder Pal Singla, Punjab Congress treasurer
September 2012: Gurpreet Singh, PPP leader who fought from Chamkaur Sahib
August 2012: Didar Singh Bhatti, former MLA from Sirhind
July 2012: Deepinder Singh Dhillon, senior Congress leader
July 2012: Lajpat Chaudhary, PPP leader who contested from Rajpura
June 2012: Ranwinder Singh, former Moga district Congress president.