Springing a surprise, the Shiromani Akali Dal, while rejecting traditional Akali families of the Kohlis and Bajajs, has fielded noted environmentalist and social worker Bhagwan Das Juenja as party candidate for the Patiala assembly bypoll.
Though the announcement of candidature of Juneja left many Akalis shocked, the party president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal appears to have made a calculated move by fielding a Hindu from the constituency that has almost 60% Hindu voters. Juneja also carries creditability for being a ‘common man’, as he has never shared the stage with any Akali, whereas he is a prominent face in the city because of his social work.
With this, Sukhbir has also tried to give a statewide message that apart from Panthic politics — which the SAD seems to be consolidating with its rage against the Haryana gurdwara panel — his social engineering formula is still in play. Also, he has underlined that he would replace non-performing Akalis.
The SAD has not won this assembly segment in the past five assembly elections, while it has lost three Lok Sabha polls from the area too since 1997, when Surjit Singh Kohli had last won this seat for the SAD.
And, as the Akali vote share nosedived in this segment in the recent Lok Sabha polls, the SAD apparently decided to go in for an experiment and field a non-political person. This is being seen a move to tackle not only the erstwhile-royal candidate of the Congress, Preneet Kaur, but also to counter the Aam Aadmi Party’s ‘common man’ image.
Juneja may be a poll greenhorn, but his son Harpal Juneja is an Akali councillor and a key aide of cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia. Harpal is also treasurer of the Youth Akali Dal headed by Majithia. Juneja holds considerable clout as he is associated with two dozen NGOs and has take up several causes, particularly providing free books and uniforms to needy students, tree plantation, building shelters and providing benches in parks.
Reacting to his candidature, Juneja said he was elated that Sukhbir had considered him. “My life is an open book. I am a common man and will ask fellow common people to vote for me. This city is mine, and I will seek votes for development. As it’s the SAD and BJP’s government at the Centre and in the state, I can usher in an era of progress if the public votes for me,” he said.