By poaching two low-profile Congress leaders having links with politically significant Dera Sachkhand Ballan in last five days, Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal has played a smart move aimed at getting the psychological edge, especially in Ravidassia community-dominated Doaba region.
Though both of them—Seth Satpal Mal, who joined the SAD in Jalandhar on Monday, and former deputy mayor from Patiala Kabir Dass, also an ardent follower of the dera, who joined on October 19—are not mass leaders, their direct access to the top in dera hierarchy is what makes them politically significant. Mal has never even fought an election in his political innings.
Sources said both the leaders were inducted into the Akali Dal with the permission of Dera Ballan head Sant Niranjan Dass. The dera head was even made to talk to the deputy CM by Mal as well as Kabir Dass.
Political analysts feel that by bringing on board the two, Sukhbir has made a successful attempt to win over the influential Ravidassia community that has the power to sway poll results in a party’s favour across Doaba.
“It’s a shrewd move to give an edge to the SAD in the perception game. The party has tried to give the signal to the Ravidassia community that it enjoys the support of their religious sect. Moreover, when many are considering the SAD on a sticky wicket due to the anti-incumbency, the party has signalled that people are still excited to join it,” said a former minister from Doaba.
Party sources said Mal was likely to be given ticket from Kartarpur segment, whereas Kabir Dass can fight from either Nabha or Shutrana reserved segment of Patiala.
Sources in the SAD disclosed that officer on special duty to deputy CM, Charanjit Brar, was given the task to “poach” Mal, five days after Dera Bassi MLA NK Sharma had succeeded in bringing Kabir Dass to the party fold.
Congress gets jittery
In 2012, since Dera Ballan had supported the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Congress could bag only six of 23 assembly seats in Doaba. The party could win only one seat of the nine seats reserved for scheduled castes in the region.
“SAD is trying to send a wrong message that Mal is a Dera man. Dera Ballan never supports a candidate or a party as it is highly respected religious body. Let the SAD be in euphoria,” said district Congress chief Jagbir Brar.
Sources said the Congress was also pressing the dera to issue a “neutral statement”.
It’s a ‘surgical strike’ on Congress: Sukhbir
Sukhbir has termed the dera leaders’ joining the SAD as “surgical strikes on the Congress”. “These strikes have damaged the Congress in Doaba. The Congress is a sinking ship now where every leader wants to politically finish Captain Amarinder Singh. People are joining us seeing the development our government has done in Punjab. In future, you will see many such strikes and senior Congress leaders joining the SAD,” said Sukhbir.
Meanwhile, slamming Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal over his promise to slash the Value Added Tax in Punjab if his party comes to power, Sukhbir said, “Kejriwal te saareyan ton vadda bewakoof hai (Kejriwal is the biggest stupid). He doesn’t even know that VAT is going to be replaced by Goods and Service Tax (GST) in three months all over the country. He was befooling the industrialists by promising to reduce VAT.”
He also said the SAD will release complete list of candidates in the next two weeks.