The Ludhiana Lok Sabha seat is arguably the only one in Punjab this time which will witness a four-cornered contest. All four top candidates — Ravneet Singh Bittu (Congress), Manpreet Singh Ayali (Shiromani Akali Dal), Harvinder Singh Phoolka of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Independent contestant Simarjit Singh Bains — are strong contenders trying to capture each other’s vote bank.
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The fact that they are all Sikhs has not only put them on an equal footing but would also lead to division of Sikh as well as Hindu votes. Industrial workers (a majority of whom are migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) comprise a large chunk of the electorate and are being wooed by the candidates.
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None of the major contenders is the sitting MP from Ludhiana — two are MLAs (Ayali and Bains), one is the Anandpur Sahib MP (Bittu) and the fourth (Phoolka) is a first-timer.
With sitting Congress MP Manish Tewari opting out of the contest, the party has fielded Bittu, grandson of late Punjab chief minister Beant Singh. Interestingly, the dissidence which was prevalent earlier in the Ludhiana unit of the Congress subsided soon after Bittu replaced Tewari.
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Though the Congress was almost a month late (compared to the SAD) in starting its campaign in this constituency, the coming together of “disgruntled elements”, followed by their well-planned mass contact programmes, has given an impetus to the canvassing.
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Belonging to the ruling alliance, Ayali, a youth leader whose work as zila parishad chairman won him a national award, is leaving no stone unturned to woo voters in urban assembly segments. However, the impact of the ‘Narendra Modi wave’ might be offset by the anti-incumbency against the SAD-BJP government.
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Independent candidate Simarjit Singh Bains, an Akali rebel, is taking the coalition head-on for its ‘anti-people’ policies. Bains, who doesn’t hesitate to criticise deputy CM and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal, is gaining supporters, thanks to his bellicose attitude.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s popularity is evident from the welcome which Phoolka is getting — amid slogans against corruption and inflation — in slum/ low-lying areas he visits. The absence of organisational setup is a stumbling block for the AAP, despite having garnered support from doctors, professors, ex-servicemen, bankers etc.