In her debut elections in 2009, the daughter-in-law of the ruling family Harsimrat Badal had trumped her nearest rival Raninder Singh of the Congress by over one lakh votes. Five years on, after nurturing Bathinda with largesse of the government and her party and family still being in power, the 19,000-odd victory margin of Harsimrat Badal can be seen as just a face-saver for the ruling Badals.
On the other hand, in his defeat is the moral victory of family rebel Manpreet Badal who can now not only stake a claim to the Badal legacy but is also a force to reckon with in the Congress after Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa suffered a humiliating defeat in Gurdaspur and his predecessor Capt Amarinder Singh makes his way into central politics.
The Bathinda mandate is a resurrection for Manpreet’s fading political career and has virtually set the alarm bells ringing for the ruling Badals.
The close call had the Badals worried for their legacy, as they resorted to every trick in the trade, including fielding a namesake against Manpreet.
Manpreet had an upper hand in Bathinda and Mansa assembly segments, though he trailed in Lambi, the CM’s seat, and Sardulgarh, held by Congress MLA Ajit Singh Mofar.
The Bathinda result is a referendum on the Akali government in Punjab and on a personal level, on SAD president Sukbir Badal’s poll management skills.
The anti-incumbency was also visible as lesser-known AAP candidate Jasraj Singh Longia polled 87,000 votes.
What lies ahead for Manpreet
Though shying away from declaring himself as part of the Congress after contesting on the party’s election symbol, Manpreet on Friday told HT that he would continue with the “Congress-PPP alliance” for 2017 (assembly elections).
“We (Congress and PPP) are permanent allies,” he added. Manpreet said he would not contest any of the three assembly by-elections, to be necessitated within six months, saying all those seats “belonged to the Congress”.
These seats would get vacant due to the victory of Capt Amarinder Singh in Patiala and resignation of Arvind Khanna from Dhuri and Jeet Mohinder Singh from Talwandi Sabo.
Manpreet maintained that he would soon convene the PPP’s executive committee meeting.
“Over one lakh votes were bought a day before the polling and the Election Commission could not do much,” Manpreet alleged while terming the result as his “moral victory”.
He pointed out that he received massive support from urban areas, mainly Bathinda and Mansa towns, and admitted that his rival’s lead in Lambi and Sardulgarh assembly segments meant that the rural votes were still by and large with the SAD.
Manpreet counted AAP as a factor behind his defeat by a slender margin, saying those were the anti-incumbency and secular votes.
“Had AAP not been there, we would have surely won by a huge margin,” he added.