Much before the reluctant Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) think tank fielded its sitting member of Parliament (MP) Paramjit Kaur Gulshan from this otherwise low-profile reserved Lok Sabha seat — despite its surveys and cadres’ feedback to the contrary — the Congress had begun sensing a major opportunity at the hustings.
And the Congress gave the first psychological blow to the bombastic SAD leadership and its jittery cadre when the party, in a clinically-crafted battle plan, positioned its well-grounded Jaitu MLA Joginder Singh Panjgrain, the giant-killer.
The Class-7 passout but politically sharp Panjgrain’s first major political victim was SAD veteran and former cabinet minister Gurdev Singh, who has been in political oblivion following two back-to-back defeats in 2007 and 2012 assembly elections at the hands of Panjgrain. Rapport with the electorate and the penchant for keeping himself plugged with the constituents are the major strengths of the Congress nominee. That’s among the many reasons behind the Congress’ upbeat mood and the offensive to wrest this seat back.
But the ruling SAD is battling internal dissensions, while softspoken Gulshan is struggling to shake off her ‘inaccessible and absentee’ tag. During her canvassing trips, she has been facing moments awkward enough to dampen the spirits of SAD cadre.
In Dina Sahib and Rau-keKalan of Nihal Singh Wala segment, voters bluntly told the MP that they were letting her step in only because Akali MLA Tota Singh was accompanying her.
“The only grouse of people against me is that I did not come frequently to meet them,” Gulshan admitted while speaking to Hindustan Times. “People expect a lot from their MP, who cannot attend every bhog or function in every village. An MP cannot do that… “
Factionalism within the SAD is another concern for the Akali cadre, which has still not come to terms with party chief Sukhbir Badal’s tactical moves of engineering defections in the Congress and giving prime slots to such turncoats at the cost of hardcore Akalis.
The options before the electorate here are mainly between the tried-and-tested Gulshan, who is vying for a third term — she first won from Bathinda — and the Congress’ Lok Sabha poll debutant Panjgrain, the twoterm MLA.
Also in the fray is a retired college lecturer, Sadhu Singh, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate, who slowly but swiftly is showing flashes of a promising politician, turning the April 30 slugfest into a triangular contest.
The Congress is trying to turn the tide in its favour on strong anti-incumbency against the seven-year-rule of the SADBJP regime in Punjab and on prickly issues such as skyrocketing prices of sand and gravel, bad condition of link roads, and drugs. “They have controlled every business from sand to drugs such as smack,” says Panjgrain, while reminding people, “I am not like those politicians who cheated you by seeking your support and never showed up after that. I will be always present in your court.”
TOMORROW: KHADOOR SAHIB