Akali-BJP candidate Gobind Singh Longowal (56) defeated Simar Pratap Singh Barnala (27), the Congress-backed Sanjha Morcha nominee, by a big margin of 37,501 votes in the Dhuri byelection here on Wednesday. With this win, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD’s) strength in the Punjab assembly has gone up to 59, giving it majority on its own in the 117-member House.
In Dhuri, the main contest was between an experienced Longowal, who had been elected MLA on three occasions previously, and first-timer Simar Pratap, grandson of former chief minister Surjit Singh Barnala. Longowal polled 67,596 votes, while Simar Pratap received 30,095. Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) candidate Surjit Singh Kalabula was a distant third with 7,554 votes, followed by Communist Party of India’s (CPI’s) Sukhdev Ram Sharma (1,933). A total of 12 candidates were in the fray. Except Simar Pratap, all losing candidates forfeited their security deposits.
As soon as the result was declared by returning officer Rajesh Dhiman at the Desh Bhagat College, Bardwal, where counting was held, Akali workers erupted into celebrations. The counting was held under three-tier security.
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal, had campaigned extensively in the 76-odd villages of the constituency. Much before electioneering began in earnest, Dhuri was flushed with development funds, with the CM assuring people during sangat darshan of all-round development if they elected Longowal, political heir of Sant Harchand Singh Longowal.
The Akalis won despite the near-absence of ally BJP from campaigning. The SAD persistently targeted the Barnalas, dubbing them as ‘traitors’ to the Panth and accusing them of ‘backstabbing and betraying’ Sant Longowal to get favours from the Congress.
Right from the word go, the Congress was divided between the camps led by state party unit president Partap Singh Bajwa and deputy leader of the party in the Lok Sabha Capt Amarinder Singh. Though the Captain campaigned with gusto for a couple of days towards the fag-end, it was too little too late.
Longowal described his triumph as a victory of the people and an endorsement of the state government’s policies. Talking to HT, he said, “I was confident of winning by a handsome margin.”
On his plans for Dhuri, he said, “I’ll work for the people of my constituency. I will try to do what was not done in the past three years.” He listed sewerage for the Dhuri town and a new bus stop as his top priorities.
Candidate Party Votes
Gobind Singh Longowal SAD 67,596
Simar Pratap Singh Barnala Congress 30,095
Surjit Singh Kalabula SAD (A) 7,554
Figuring it out
Even as the Aam Aadmi Party was not in the fray, the AAP vote in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls apparently went Gobind Singh Longowal’s way (AAP candidate Bhagwant Mann had comfortably won the Sangrur parliamentary seat, which includes Dhuri)
Longowal had lost the 2012 assembly election from Dhuri to Congress’ Arvind Khanna by a margin of 12,473 votes.
Simar Partap’s father Gaganjit Singh Barnala, who had contested as a candidate of the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP), had then finished third. It was Khanna’s resignation as an MLA that necessitated the bypoll
This was the fourth bypoll victory for the Akali-BJP coalition in the past three years, having earlier bagged Dasuya, Moga and Talwandi Sabo assembly seats. Preneet Kaur of the Congress had won the Patiala byelection last year.