Reposition halqa in-charge, rehabilitate potential troublemakers and critically analyse weak spots of sitting legislators: These are the core steps of a quiet but quick multi-pronged pre-poll strategy the Akali Dal has launched to give a renewed push to the 2017 assembly poll preparations.
As the eight-year-old SAD-BJP alliance has been battling its worst perception crisis, SAD chief and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal is going for the image makeover of the party by reshuffling the halqa in-charge. Behind this course correction and relocating the halqa in-charge is the objective of shedding the anti-incumbency and re-launching the party leaders from new assembly seats -- almost 18 months in advance before the next assembly elections.
While beginning this exercise, Balbir Singh Rajewal, president of Bhartiya Kisan Union, has been made halqa in-charge of Samrala, and the new political turf of former MP Paramjit Kaur Gulshan who lost the 2014 Lok Sabha election will now be Bathinda rural assembly segment.
Similarly, nearly half a dozen other party leaders, including Darshan Singh Kotfatta who has been shifted to Buchho segment of Bathinda district, have been given new segments to nurture as halqa in-charge, SAD sources said.
In the first phase, the SAD is changing the halqa in-charges who had unsuccessfully contested the last assembly elections and are still perceived to be on a sticky wicket. In the Akali Dal the halqa in-charge is considered the party nominee for the assembly election and functions as a bridge between the electorate and the government.
Simultaneously, the SAD leadership has been zeroing in on potential candidates who may replace the sitting MLAs of the party. On this front, in Mansa segment the SAD has started grooming Prem Kumar Arora who has been appointed as chairman of the district planning board. The SAD handpicked Arora after the clean image and first-time sitting Mansa MLA Prem Mittal, sources say, conveyed to Sukhbir Badal that he wanted to shift his political base to his home district Ludhiana.
Plum posts to troublemakers
Another crucial thread of Sukhbir’s pre-poll strategy has been to placate some of the halqa in-charges—who lost the last assembly elections--by giving them lucrative government assignments. Through such ingenious moves the SAD has not only stamped out the potential of rebellion but also paved the way to groom new leaders without much murmur.
As part of this strategy, the SAD leadership appointed its former Banga MLA Mohan Lal as the member of the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC). Now, in Banga reserve seat the SAD has appointed Sukhwinder Sukhi as halqa in-charge.
Again, the SAD used the constitutional body -- the PPSC -- recently to rehabilitate its another halqa in-charge Sukhwant Singh Sarao by appointing him member of the PPSC. Sarao had lost narrowly the last assembly polls from Lehra and was pitted against Congress’ Rajinder Kaur Bhattal.
Not only this, a battery of candidates who lost the last election and are still contenders and could cause trouble if denied ticket have been rewarded with different government posts as chairmen or vice-chairmen.
Meanwhile, a secretive exercise is underway wherein the SAD has sought feedback from its MLAs. A 20-point and three-page questionnaire has been given to the MLAs and also to those who were defeated by the Congress. The party has sought to know details such as the “essential ingredients” required for victory in the 2017 assembly slugfest.
Following are some of the 20 points on which the SAD has sought feedback from its MLAs and halqa in-charges
Any specific step you think essential for victory: Atta dal, hike in old-age pension from Rs 250 to Rs 500; increase in Shagun from Rs 15,000 to Rs 30,000 or any other step.
What should be the SAD agenda for 2017 election?
What measures should be taken to motivate youth?
What promises you made in 2012; were these fulfilled or totally ignored?
Commitments fulfilled and those still pending.
What contributed to the loss or gain in 2014 Lok Sabha polls in your seat?
Reasons for not starting work to keep the promises.
In case you lost by narrow margin, what were the reasons?
What facilitated your victory in 2012 polls? Cite 5 major reasons.