The results of the recently concluded Assembly bypolls in Punjab have demonstrated that the Shiromani Akali Dal faces no challenge from the Congress. The Akalis were able to comfortably win the Banur, Jalalabad and Kanuwan seats with the Congress not even in the fight. The Jalalabad victory ensured that Sukhbir Singh Badal is established as the No. 2 in his party and is now legitimately the Deputy Chief Minister.
The Banur result had to go in favour of Bunny, son of late Captain Kanwaljit Singh. The Congress made the mistake of putting up Devinder Singh Dhillon knowing fully well that in the delimitation, which comes into force in 2012, the seat will be pre-dominantly Hindu.
The Kanuwan seat outcome is certainly a setback for the new Congress Gurdaspur MP, Pratap Singh Bajwa, whose brother, Fateh Jung Bajwa, was the candidate. The seat was held by Pratap before the parliamentary polls and in the Lok Sabha elections, the party had established a lead of 2,000 votes from there. Now Fateh Jung has lost the seat. There have been many stories that have been floated around the Kanuwan contest. It is said that Pratap and Sukhbir had a secret understanding to ensure Fateh’s victory but Badal senior was livid when he learnt about this. He not only pulled up his son but also held more than a dozen meetings in the constituency in favour of Sewa Singh Sekhwan, his party candidate.
Some Punjab papers even suggested that Pratap had sought Akali help so that he could become eligible for the position of Punjab Congress chief. But all this appears to be far-fetched as Bajwa, a first-time
Lok Sabha MP, has a long road ahead in politics.
The main point is that the Punjab government is halfway through its tenure and the Congress is yet to decide who should lead the charge in the state. The Rajinder Kaur Bhattal-M.S. Kaypee team which heads the party has proved ineffective and in the parliamentary polls, the Congress had to call Amarinder Singh to head its campaign.
The former CM demonstrated beyond doubt that only he can take on the Badals. In the parliamentary polls, he had no qualms about sending his son, Raninder, inside the Akali chakravyuh in Bhatinda. He lost the battle there but won the war in the state with the Congress getting as many as eight out of 13 seats.
Earlier, in the 2007 polls, the Captain had managed to get the Congress 44 seats in the Assembly, five less than the Akalis and had it not for the 19 seats won by the BJP, the Akalis would never have been able to form the government in the state. While it is for the Congress leadership to name who its new leader in the state should be, it is very clear that the façade of Amarinder-Bhattal unity is not going to work out. Both cannot be leaders of the state and M.S. Kaypee is not recognised as a top leader by party cadres.
The Congress must learn that the BJP was able to withstand the onslaught in states ruled by it since it had strong leaders during the parliamentary polls. In order to capitalise on this, the Congress must do similar things. It will be going to the polls under the assured leadership of Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana two months from now. Similarly, in other states, it should name its first line of leadership. In Punjab, Amarinder is certainly the best bet and he should be allowed to gear up for the 2012 polls. Otherwise the Akalis are going to stay in power forever. Between us.