The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) victory in the Dhuri byelection has the stamp of deputy chief minister and party president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who made and executed the strategy to win the 59th MLA for a simple majority in the Punjab assembly of 117.
For the first time in two decades, Dhuri has elected a ruling party candidate. Gobind Singh Longowal of the SAD beat the Congress convincingly. Known for his micro-management in the poll-bound constituencies, Sukhbir played his cards well, as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) decided wisely not to contest the game in which the ruling party always had an edge.
It was Sukhbir who sensed the voter sentiment against the government and decided to take charge of the campaign, Dhuri is a Congress seat traditionally, and in the last Lok Sabha election, the SAD had won only four polling booths here. After the resignation of Congress legislator Arvind Khanna was accepted, Sukhbir wasted no time in planning to fill the space.
His father, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, gave several crore rupees in dole to Dhuri under his trademark public-contact programme, sangat darshan, which he held in every village of the constituency, and ensure that village heads received the maximum amount. It made the voters believe that if they elect a ruling-party candidate, perhaps there would be more funds. The CM even suggested so in the campaign, and it worked.
Sukhbir prepared a list of villages where Akalis had no presence. He then put a cabinet-rank leader or a senior party functionary in charge of each cluster of villages that accounted for 5,000 to 6,000 votes. The toughest 10 villages, where the Akalis trailed at third position in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, were given to revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia to manage.
The opposition says the SAD victory was “systematic rigging and purchasing of votes” but fact is that it was outplayed in the campaign. Sukhbir and the senior Badal together addressed 100 rallies (Badal 58 and Sukhbir 42), while state Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa campaigned at 30, former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal went to 15, and Amritsar MP Captain Amarinder Singh spoke at only 10.
How Dhuri was won
After the SAD gave Dhuri atta-dal, shagun, Scheduled Caste scheme and other government benefits, those who were not going to vote for it were convinced that they shouldn’t elect the opposition either; so they sat home and the SAD won by more than 37,000 votes, which was more than 50% of the vote share.
Even after working so hard, the SAD had to give freebies to the voters to win them over. Even on the election day, it workers from outside roamed in the constituency, while the Congress camp was missing from the scene.