Punjab's ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) alliance won the high-stakes Moga assembly byelection on Thursday, with SAD nominee Joginder Pal Jain (67) defeating Congress candidate Vijay Kumar Sathi (66) by a margin of 18,849 votes.
This is the second consecutive bypoll victory for the SAD-BJP alliance, which had retained the Dasuya seat in July last year, albeit by a much bigger margin of more than 47,000 votes.
While Jain polled 69,269 votes, Sathi fetched 50,420 votes. Ravinder Singh Dhaliwal of the People's Party of Punjab (PPP) was a distant third with 7,401 votes. With this victory, Jain completed a hat-trick from Moga, having won in the 2007 and 2012 assembly polls on the Congress ticket.
The February 23 byelection was necessitated by then sitting Congress MLA Jain's defection to the SAD in December last year. Justifying the switchover, Jain had claimed to have done it for the sake of Moga's development as the constituency had been neglected by the ruling alliance during his tenure as Congress MLA. Punjab Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh, however, had accused Jain of crossing over to settle the criminal cases registered against him.
The defection was engineered by SAD president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. After resigning from the assembly, Jain had got the SAD ticket to contest against the Congress candidate.
The counting of votes started at 8am on Thursday and was completed in the afternoon at a senior secondary school in Moga. Jain maintained a steady lead in all 14 rounds, except the 11th, in which Sathi led by 1,877 votes. Jain got a lead of 15,091 votes from 45 villages in the first seven rounds. Sathi, who was expected to do well in the town and surrounding urban areas, lagged in most of the following rounds as well.
Returning officer Joram Beda said six votes were received by post and two ballot papers were rejected.
After winning the Dasuya bypoll last year and the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) polls in January this year, the Moga byelection was expected to be a cakewalk for the SAD. However, Amarinder made it tough for the Akalis by staying put in the constituency for campaigning for more than 20 days. Apart from Sukhbir, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia and MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal aggressively canvassed for Jain.
Jain not only won from Moga for the third consecutive time but also recorded his biggest victory margin. In the 2007 assembly polls, he had defeated senior Akali leader Jathedar Tota Singh by 1,292.votes. In the 2012 polls, Jain beat Akali candidate and former Punjab DGP Paramdeep Singh Gill by 4,625 votes. This time, he raised the margin to 18,849 votes.
PPP flop show
Manpreet Singh Badal's People's Party of Punjab (PPP) failed to hold on to its vote share in Moga. Party candidate Ravinder Singh Dhaliwal polled 7,401 votes, down from 9,800 votes he had got in the 2012 polls. The party lacked an agenda of its own and appeared to be banking on disgruntled voters.
Joginder Pal Jain (SAD) 69,269
Vijay Sathi (Congress) 50,420
Ravinder Singh Dhaliwal (PPP) 7,401
How House looks
SAD 57 + 2*
Congress 45 + 1*
* Ludhiana's Bains brothers (Simarjit and Balwinder), who fought the 2012 polls as Independents, are associate members of the SAD
* Rajneesh Babby, Independent MLA from Mukerian, is an associate member of the Congress
Joginder Pal Jain: There was virtually no development in Moga over the past several years because the elected representative remained in the opposition. So, I took a historic decision (of joining SAD) for the sake of development of my area. I will dedicate myself to the constituency's development till my last breath.
Vijay Sathi: The ruling SAD violated the code of conduct during the entire election process. When all senior Congress leaders had left the constituency, many SAD leaders stayed put and bought votes. We complained to the Election Commission, but to no avail. The Congress will file a complaint to the EC, along with evidence of code violations.