The clash for the Dharamkot assembly seat has a distinct Akali flavour. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) stalwart and former education minister Tota Singh is taking on two former Akalis — Sukhjit Singh Kaka Lohgarh and Kuldeep Singh Dhos — who are contesting on the Congress and People’s Party of Punjab tickets, respectively.
Ironically, the three candidates worked together for the SAD in the past several years and have an overlapping vote bank. No wonder, a majority of the voters are in a dilemma.
“Dharamkot is an Akali area. We are highlighting achievements of the SAD-BJP government during the past five years, besides plans for further development,” says Tota Singh. He credits chief minister Parkash Singh Badal with granting tehsil status to Dharamkot and providing basic facilities.
Tota Singh’s son Barjinder Singh Brar is campaigning door to door in slum areas (vehras) of villages. “Me and my supporters are wooing poor people who were ignored by the Congress,” says Brar.
At Gloti village, 70 women residents of slum areas join the SAD in Brar’s presence. “We have been facing scarcity of drinking water for the past 20 years. The sewerage system is in bad shape. The SAD won this seat many times, but nobody listened to us. So, we joined the Congress, but to no avail. Now, we have joined the SAD again in the hope that our problems will finally be solved,” says Rajwant Kaur of Gloti village.
The Moga sex and extortion racket, in which Brar and some police officials were arrested by the CBI, is also a talking point among local people.
Congress candidate Kaka Lohgarh defeated Tota Singh confidant Gurmail Singh in the SGPC polls last year. He had contested as an Independent after being denied the SAD ticket. Later, Punjab Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh persuaded Kaka Lohgarh to join his party. The Congress is banking on him for a rare victory in the Akali-dominated constituency.
“We are organising public meetings and going door to door. People of my area are giving a good response to the Congress. They want to see Amarinder as the next chief minister,” says Kaka Lohgarh.
He and his brother Avtar Singh Lohgarh are firstly covering the town and major villages such as Bhinder Kalan, Kishanpura Kalan and Kot Isse Khan. “I got a big lead in these areas in the SGPC elections,” adds Kaka Lohgarh.
The PPP candidate, Kuldeep Singh Dhos, says, “When I was in the SAD, I worked hard for the people, but when the party neglected this area, I joined the PPP. Manpreet Badal’s party wants more development in Dharamkot.” His son, Davinder Singh, is busy campaigning at Bhinder Kalan village.
Experts are of the view that Tota Singh’s political survival is at stake in the assembly polls. The constituency has already been declared sensitive.
Former chief parliamentary secretary Sheetal Singh, a close relative of SAD veteran Gurdev Badal, had defeated former MP Kewal Singh from Dharamkot in the 2007 polls. Sheetal Singh won the seat thrice in a row for the SAD.
The old-timers gave credit to Lachhman Singh Gill, who was elected from Dharamkot and later became the Punjab chief minister, for carrying out development work in the area four decades ago.