Even the return of Captain Amarinder Singh to the helm of Punjab Congress could not save it the blushes of a string of desertions. The announcement of the Khadoor Sahib bypoll will be the first litmus test for Amarinder’s leadership in the run-up to the 2017 assembly polls.
Though the state Congress president has chosen to dismiss the deserters as “deadwood”, the party is no more seems to be on the sure footing it was a month ago when Amarinder put up an impressive show at Bathinda. That the bypoll has been thrust upon by his loyalist --- former Khadoor Sahib MLA Ramanjit Sikki resigned to protest against sacrilege incidents --- makes winning it a job Amarinder would have to oversee to the finish.
In all likelihood, Captain would re-nominate Sikki, who may have won more sympathisers in his largely ‘Panthic’ constituency by resigning over an emotive issue. That is also the Congress’ best bet to clinch the bypoll against the might of ruling Akalis who will pull out all stops to be seen on a winning track after recent setbacks.
Huge stakes for both parties
Both parties have huge stakes in this predominantly rural constituency. The Congress needs to reclaim its turf lest it is seen as losing even winning seats to the Akalis. As for the ruling Badals, the verdict will be a barometer of the party’s popularity graph which had nosedived following the sacrilege incidents of Guru Granth Sahib and backlash from Sikh radicals after firing on protesters.
Luckily for both SAD and Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party has decided not to contest. However, its breakaway leader Bhai Baldeep Singh, who unsuccessfully contested the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from Khadoor Sahib as AAP candidate, has the potential to turn it into a three-corner contest.
SAD stalwart Ranjit Singh Brahmpura was defeated by Congress debutant Ramanjit Singh Sikki in the 2012 assembly polls. Brahmpura was resurrected in the Lok Sabha elections when the AAP played a spoiler for the Congress. A confidant of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, Brahmpura is likely to get the ticket for his adopted son Ravinder Brahmpura. The importance of the bypoll for the Akalis can be gauged from the fact that the chief minister did not lose time in preparing a favourable ground by holding a series of sangat darshans in the constituency soon after it was announced as vacant by the election commission.
The Akalis even made Khadoor Sahib the venue for their last Sadbhawna rally merging it with the Amritsar rally to ensure an impressive show.
In the perception game, Khadoor Sahib will be the semi-finals for both SAD and Congress to the grand finale in 2017.