Coming at a time when the party is still recovering from the defeat in the recent Lok Sabha election and facing the prospect of a separate Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the Patiala bypoll would be a litmus test for the Shiromani Akali DaL (SAD).
Though the SAD-BJP alliance has won by-elections at both Moga and Dasuya assembly segments and has firm-footing at Talwandi Sabo, which will also go for polling on August 21, the royal city of Punjab would be a major challenge for the panthic party, going by its electoral history in the region.
An adverse result would be the first setback to the SAD in bypolls as it has won every bypoll since 2007, when it formed the government. This is the seventh year of the Akali Dal’s regime.
However, the last time Akali Dal won in Patiala was in 1997 when Captain Amarinder Singh was missing from the political canvass of Punjab. Ever since he joined the Congress, SAD has failed to reclaim the seat.
Patiala is a stronghold of the Congress and especially the Patiala royal family headed by former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
In all eight polls since 1998 (five Lok Sabha and three Assembly polls), the Congress has won this assembly segment with wide margins, while the vote share of the SAD has gone down every time due to its laidback attitude.
Even in 1998, when Captain Amarinder Singh was defeated in the Lok Sabha election from Patiala, he had secured a lead from the Patiala assembly seat.
In the recent parliamentary election, the Akali Dal finished third with new entrant the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) faring much better. The panthic party secured a mere 16,342 votes while the Congress got 43,238 votes and the AAP won 35,674 votes.
In the recent Lok Sabha election, Akali Dal candidate Deepinder Dhillon won 16,000 votes as against the 22,000 votes won by SAD candidate Surjit Singh Kohli against Captain Amarinder Singh (who was the CM candidate of the Congress) in the 2012 assembly elections. Within a span of two years, the party has seen a dip of 6,000 votes in Patiala.
The SAD, which is in a dilemma over candidate selection, may field a Hindu candidate as the community constitutes almost 60% of the city’s population. “Winning the Patiala seat would be a herculean task for the SAD. Except the recent Lok Sabha polls, Sukhbir had never taken a deep interest in Patiala,” said a SAD leader on condition of anonymity.
The city was ignored for the last seven years and it would go against the part, said the SAD leader. Party in-charge for Patiala district and cabinet minister Sikandar Singh Maluka said: “It will be a tough fight, but the SAD will defeat the Congress and Captain Amarinder on home turf.” He said the party will use man-to-man marking to approach voters.