The voter turnout of 58.46 percent in the Khadoor Sahib bypoll held on Saturday was definitely not what the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had expected, considering that party president and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had called upon his party workers to ensure a high turnout so that the party’s candidate, Ravinder Singh Brahmpura, could win by a record margin.
The deputy CM made this appeal during the poll campaign, as he was keen to neutralise the effect of the opposition Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which had opted out of the bypoll. Confident of Brahmpura’s victory, the junior Badal was aware that both the Congress and the AAP would claim victory if the polling percentage turned out to be low.
Meanwhile, there was an appeal by former Khadoor Sahib MLA Ramanjit Singh Sikki of the Congress, asking voters to stay away from the polling process, as the government had made no attempts to identify and apprehend the miscreants who were behind the sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib in Baath village in Khadoor Sahib, last year. Sikki had quit the assembly seat, following the sacrilege incident that led to the bypoll.
As Sikki had himself declined to contest despite being chosen by the Congress for the bye-election, he chose to give a boycott call on the sacrilege issue. He was the lone Congress candidate to win from Tarn Taran district in the 2012 assembly polls. He had defeated Akali stalwart and current MP from the Khadoor Sahib parliamentary constituency Ranjit Singh Brahmpura by over 3,000 votes.
With the general elections to the state assembly scheduled in early next year, the Akalis made all out appeals to the 1.87 lakh electorates to move out of their homes and head for the polling stations. All through the polling day, Akali leaders were seen asking the voters to exercise their franchise. In some villages, even vehicles were provided to ferry voters to the polling station.
The polling percentage of 58.46 percent is considered as ‘average’ but this fell far below the expectations of the SAD president. Badal and his party leadership have a reason to worry as Tarn Taran district, which includes the Khadoor Sahib segment, is a ‘panthic’ (Akali) stronghold. Barring the loss suffered in 2012 from Khadoor Sahib and from the Valtoha (now Khem Karan) assembly segment in 2002, SAD has never lost any other assembly poll from the Jat-Sikh dominated Tarn Taran district since 1997. “If the voters had not been forced out of their homes, the percentage would have been lower. It could have gone down to 50%,” Sikki said, while claiming that the people chose to stay away from the election process as they were angry with the state government over the sacrilege incidents that took place in different parts of the state last, year.
Ranjit Brahmpura’s popularity ‘on wane’
The electorates also seem to have ignored the appeals by local MP Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, who was keen to ensure a record victory margin for his son and party candidate Ravinder Singh Brahmpura. The aging Akali stalwart, considered as a close confidant of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, has always been a popular figure in the Majha belt.
Though in 2014, he made his maiden entry to the Lok Sabha, Brahmpura has won a number of electorate battles from the area in the past and even remained a minister twice under the elder Badal. After his loss in 2012 assembly elections, he concentrated in getting the chief minister to dole out funds for development in Khadoor Sahib. The turnout also reflects on the popularity of the elder Brahmpura.
The poll percentage has never dipped to such a low in the byeelections held in Dasuya, Moga, Talwandi Sabo, Patiala and Dhuri assembly constituency in the recent past. Also history of these bypolls suggested that high poll percentage had always benefited the ruling party. In Patiala bypoll, the voter turnout was also low (60%) which converted into the victory of Congress’ Perneet Kaur.