Even after the absence of key adversaries, the stakes are still high for the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in the by-election for this Punjab assembly seat. A tooth-and-nail fight is missing after the Congress boycott of the contest but the ruling party is not taking any chances even as the victory looks like in sight.
Now pitted against six low-profile candidates, Akali candidate Ravinder Singh Brahmpura has shifted his focus to the victory margin in the February 13 verdict. His remaining opponents are Puran Singh of the Bahujan Samaj Party (Ambedkar) and independents Sukhdev Singh, Bhupinder Singh, Sumail Singh, Harjit Singh and Anantjeet Singh. Another independent, Ajit Singh Saini, withdrew his candidature on Saturday. With the nomination papers of independent candidate Bhai Baldeep Singh rejected, the SAD nominee is hitting out at the Congress for running away from the battle.
Led by his father, Lok Sabha member Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, Ravinder has still campaigned in many villages. “We have already won. We are campaigning just to increase the lead,” the Akali leader claims. Left with no heavyweight to face, the junior Brahmpura told voters at Manochahal village: “I would like to ask the Congress supporters why back a party that ran away from the battle, leaving you alone. Give me the opportunity to serve you. I assure you a lot of affection and development.”
Later, he told HT: “The Congress boycott has killed all the interest in the fight. Its state president Captain Amarinder Singh thinks that if this bypoll is lost, his leadership will be under challenge from the rivals within, including Partap Singh Bajwa. How will a national-level party that has ruled the country for the majority of the years after independence and had most states under its control show its face to the voters in the Punjab elections of 2017?” The nerves may have gone, but the Akali campaign is on with the same intensity. Aware that the SAD’s popularity in the state has got a beating, the party workers are knocking at the doors of the voters, while the leaders are engaging the villagers by holding corner meetings.
“Our party president, Sukhbir Singh Badal, has asked us not to be complacent. A record lead is the target to prepare the party for the 2017 war,” says the SAD nominee. The ruling party is aware that a section of Sikh masses is still unhappy with it over the incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib reported in different villages of Tarn Taran and many other districts, which had led to huge turnout at the radicals’ Sarbat Khalsa (Sikh congregation) on November 10 last year at Chabba village of Amritsar district, which is near this constituency. Political pundits opine that the absence of any strong challenge would make the Akali victory hollow. Hence, all eyes will be on the victory’s size.
Congress rebel Bhupinder Singh Bittu, who has entered the race as an independent, is likely to give some fight to Ravinder Singh Brahmpura, if the supporters of the last legislator, Ramanjit Singh Sikki, back him. Sikki resigned as Congress MLA from this segment in protest against the sacrilege incidents. He had defeated senior Brahmpura in the 2012 assembly polls. His reluctance to run again forced the Congress to pull out of the election at the last minute.