Sangrur LS bypoll: AAP’s prestige, others’ survival at stake
About 15.7 lakh registered voters are set to seal the fate of 16 candidates contesting the high-stakes Sangrur Lok Sabha byelection on Thursday.
For the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), it’s a question of prestige to hold on to its bastion. For others, who were swept by the AAP wave in the recent assembly elections, it is a fight for survival.
With the opposition focusing on the state’s law and order situation after the murder of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moose Wala, the ruling party’s campaign seemed to have derailed initially. However, chief minister Bhagwant Mann — who has won this parliamentary seat twice — spearheaded the campaign on the ground, putting the spotlight back on corruption to corner the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Congress.
The AAP knows that a defeat or a narrow-margin win could make the three-month-old Mann-led government vulnerable, while a win could boost the party’s chances even in the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections. Thus, not leaving anything to chance, the Arvind Kejriwal-led party fired on all cylinders in the final week of campaigning, with all state legislators and party office-bearers thronging Sangrur to canvass in favour of Gurmail Singh, 38, who is Mann’s protégé.
Even Kejriwal, who is a central figure in the AAP’s crusade against corruption, held a road show with Mann. “It’s just the beginning… No one who indulged in corruption will be spared,” Mann said during his campaign, while also putting the blame for the thriving gangster culture in the state on the previous Congress and SAD regimes. However, the response from the electorate has not been as enthusiastic as was seen ahead of the assembly elections.
If not more, the stakes are as high for the traditional parties that have seen the AAP rise in Punjab at their expense. For the SAD, a defeat will further dent the position of party president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is under fire for successive electoral defeats.
In March, after the state poll rout, Sukhbir managed to survive as his father and party patriarch Parkash Singh Badal called for a “collective responsibility” for the defeat. However, a defeat here will make the voice for his ouster louder. With party candidate Kamaldeep Kaur Rajoana, 44, failing to strike a chord with the voters, win seems to be a tall order.
For Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, it is the first major battle after his elevation, and he has placed his trust in former youth wing colleague Dalvir Singh Goldy, 39. Even as Warring tried to put up a strong show, the morale of workers remained low, especially in the backdrop of senior party leaders joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Congress campaign failed to take off in Dirba, Sunam and Bhadaur assembly segments, with prominent leaders in these areas raising the banner of revolt. A defeat will further erode the party base, as many local leaders, particularly sarpanches, are making the beeline for the AAP.
The BJP is hoping to make a mark after backing former Congress MLA Kewal Singh Dhillon, 72. The party must have heaved a sigh of relief after facing no protests during campaigning in a region that was the epicentre of farmers’ agitation. Dhillon is banking on the Hindu vote bank in urban areas besides his personal rapport, even as he had to face defeat in the 2017 assembly polls and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Come what may, SAD (Amritsar) president and candidate Simranjit Singh Mann, 77, has emerged as the “X factor” in this election. A former two-time Lok Sabha member, he was able to draw crowds in rural areas, including Muslim-majority Malerkotla. However, he seemed to have little presence in urban areas. With counting of votes scheduled on June 26, it’s just a matter of days before Sangrur gets its new representative in the Lok Sabha.
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