In what will tie the voters up in knots, the kite symbol that belonged to Manpreet Singh Badal in the 2012 assembly elections has gone to his namesake independent rival in the Bathinda Lok Sabha election.
The state’s ruling party, the Shiromani Akali Dal, backs Manpreet’s opponent who on Saturday gained this psychological edge in the high-stake contest. In another jolt to the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) president contesting on the Congress symbol of hand, the returning officer also allowed the independent rival to keep his surname, Badal, on the ballot paper as well as the electronic voting machine (EVM).
Manpreet has been using his old PPP symbol subtly in the campaign, putting it delicately on posters and other publicity material. Now, there are two of his name in the contest, and Saturday was the last day of withdrawing the nomination.
The battle lines for the April 30 election are drawn with 29 candidates, including 14 independents.The more popular Manpreet Singh Badal dubbed the new development a planned Akali move help sitting MP (member of Parliament) Harsimrat Kaur Badal, wife of deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, since at stake is the prestige of the state’s ruling family.
“I have great doubts about the neutrality of the deputy commissioner, who is also returning officer (RO),” said Manpreet, adding: “A free and fair election cannot be held under this RO, in whom I have no confidence. We will seek his removal.”
Confronted, deputy commissioner KK Yadav said two independents, Manpreet Singh and Jagdeep Singh, had each sought kite as election symbol. “We decided by the draw of lots in the presence of a poll observer,” he said. “The draw was manipulated,” said Manpreet, lodging a protest with chief electoral officer (CEO) VK Singh.
“Even the CEO seems helpless,” he claimed. Asked how the twin developments will impact the outcome of the election, Manpreet was guarded, saying: “It will have little or no impact but it highlights the lack of neutrality of the RO and the desperation of the ruling party.”
He accused the RO of allowing the independent to use “Badal” surname in spite of the latter’s failing to furnish evidence that he had used the suffix earlier also. “If they (Akalis) have to resort to these things, I’d say they are trying to grab a lifeline to stay afloat,” the candidate said.
Earlier in the day, the People’s Par ty of Punjab (PPP) president and Congress candidate skipped his scheduled public meetings in the rural pockets of the constituency and met the returning officer to challenge the twin decisions.
“That independent had no documentary evidence to support his contention, yet the deputy commissioner allowed…” said Manpreet¸ perturbed visibly.
The deputy commissioner argued: “I saw no technical hitch. Rules allow this.”