It is perhaps the most asked question in Punjab’s dynastic politics. When is deputy CM Sukhbir Badal taking over the mantle of the Punjab CM? It was asked as a younger Akhilesh Yadav replaced his father Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh and Omar Abdullah replaced father Farooq Abdullah in J&K.
Speculations on the handover of family baton of power were rife when Badal junior led the Shiromani Akali Dal to a thumping victory beating Punjab’s see-saw poll history in 2012.
But Verdict 2014 has silenced the chorus for the generational shift before the 2017 state polls within some sections of the Akali Dal.
The Deputy CM’s choice of candidates and his poll management skills have failed to shine this time round. Not only has the party lost ground, its vote share has fallen by over 7% as compared to 2009; it has trailed even on seats where it had sitting MLAs.
Worse still, the SAD president’s handpicked candidates came third on three seats and faced defeat on at least two seats out of 10 that the party contested as part of the alliance.
His wife Harsimrat managed to scrape through in the family stronghold of Bathinda against cousin Manpreet Badal who fought on a Congress symbol.
This, when Sukhbir had pulled out all stops in Bathinda and devoted most of the time to supervising the campaign.
The insult to the injury was the ally BJP losing its seat of prestige, Amritsar, where the stakes for the alliance were at an all-time high.
That his brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia is under fire for loss of Amritsar in particular and anti-incumbency sentiments prevailing in the state in general does not help matters either.
The tussle for seats within the two power centres of the Akali Dal was palpable. Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s choice for Ludhiana was his political adviser, Mahesh Inder Grewal.
But Sukhbir had his way and fielded moneybag Manpreet Ayali, who was pushed to the third slot in the direct Aam Aadmi Party-Congress contest. He trailed even in his own assembly seat of Dakha.
The CM’s choice for Fatehgarh Sahib was the son of his old loyalist, Punjab assembly speaker, Charanjit Atwal. But Sukhbir and Majithia chose another moneybag, realtor Kulwant Singh, over Inder Iqbal Singh Atwal.
It did not matter that Kulwant was the same realtor whom Sukhbir had accused of a Rs. 1,500-crore scam under patronage of for mer Punjab Congress CM Capt Amarinder Singh. Kulwant too was pushed to the third slot in the Congress-AAP contest.
In Patiala, the CM’s choice was another loyalist, cabinet minister Surjit Rakhra. But the seat went to Deepinder Dhillon who manifests Sukhbir’s brand of politics -- courting moneybags and defectors.
Once Congressman Deepinder Dhillon challenged his own mentor Preneet Kaur and was pushed to the third slot, once again in a direct AAP-Congress clash.
Adampur MLA Pawan Kumar Tinu too was Badal junior’s choice. He trailed in seven assembly segments out of nine, including his own seat of Adampur.
The CM was able to prevail in fielding old loyalists like Ranjit Singh Brahmpura from Khadoor Sahib and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa from Sangrur.
Brahmpura snatched a win in what was seen as his last poll run while Dhindsa was swept away by the AAP’s ‘broom’. Among the so- called consensus candidates, Prem Singh Chandumajra won from Anandpur Sahib and Sher Singh Ghubaya from Ferozepur.
Paramjit Kaur Gulshan was pushed to the third slot in Faridkot. The slender win of Harsimrat Badal from Bathinda too adds no sheen to her husband’s touted poll management skills as it was Lambi, her father-in-law’s constituency that tilted the scales in her favour.
Other than the choice of candidates, the old guard in the Akali Dal is also not learnt to be too happy about being sidelined in the new scheme of things, where Sukhbir and Majithia call the shots.
The three-member SAD core committee team to study poll results has all CM loyalists -- Tota Singh, Sewa Singh Sekhwan and Mahesh Inder Grewal. Will the old Akali guard stake claim to reclaim the lost territory? The coming months will tell.
RSS WANTS BJP TO GIVE OUTSIDE SUPPORT
After one of their tallest leaders in the poll fray, Arun Jaitley, was humbled in Amritsar with over one lakh votes, the ally BJP too is in no mood to play second fiddle.
In a meeting held after the results last week, the RSS top brass in Punjab is learnt to have conveyed to the BJP the need to distance itself from the Akalis.
“The RSS feels that Jaitley paid for anti-incumbency against the Akali Dal at a time when the BJP was riding a wave.
It was the SAD which had lured Jaitley to contest from Amritsar. If the results are any indicator of the things to come, especially with AAP emerging as a formidable third force, the BJP will be at the receiving end of the people’s ire even in the 2017 assembly elections. There is a chorus for change within the Punjab BJP.
While some leaders are recommending giving outside support to the SAD, some want state BJP chief Kamal Sharma to go as he is seen to be too pliable to the Akalis.
A section is in favour of even cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Sidhu to be given a prominent position in the state BJP as he can take on the Badals.
A major churning is on its way even in ticket distribution between the allies. The BJP is no more in the mood to play second fiddle,” sources in the BJP said. The BJP has not only increased its tally by winning two seats, but also improved its vote share.