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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

Punjab bypolls: At 78.8%, Jalalabad records highest turnout among four seats

Voting percentage drops from 86.9% that the constituency recorded in 2017 assembly polls; voting remained peaceful, except a couple of skirmishes

india Updated: Oct 21, 2019 23:27 IST
Vishal Joshi
Vishal Joshi
Hindustan Times, Bathinda

Bathinda In polling that saw two skirmishes and a brief disruption at a booth after Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidate, Raj Singh Dibbipura, charged a Congress agent with attempting to bribe voters, Jalalabad saw a turnout of 78.8% (1.62 lakh) of 2.05 lakh voters till 7.30pm on Monday. This was the highest among all four seats. This, however, was lower than 86.9% turnout that the constituency recorded in 2017 assembly polls.

The bypoll was necessitated after Sukhbir Singh Badal resigned as MLA, following his victory from the Ferozepur Lok Sabha constituency in May.

Brisk polling: Rai Sikhs hold key

Political analysts say the Rai Sikh community, a Scheduled Caste, comprises 35% voters in the constituency. The community is known for voting en bloc, even recording a turnout of 90%. Analysts add that the polling pattern of the community plays an important role in deciding electoral fortunes. Sources in SAD said Sukhbir nurtured the constituency into a party stronghold.

“When Sukhbir became the deputy CM after winning from Jalalabad in 2009, he took extra care to develop the seat. His political strategy of focusing on Rai Sikhs was evident in the recent parliamentary election results where he managed an impressive electoral margin from villages of Rai Sikhs. This was even as former MLA from here, Sher Singh Ghubaya, who made way for Sukhbir in 2009, was contesting as a Congress candidate,” said a close aide of the SAD chief.

“The community is speared out in rural areas. Akalis are believed to have an edge over its political opponents in villages. Congress candidate Raminder Singh Awla, a moneyed politician, also tried hard to reach out to the rural population. It will be interesting to see who managed to woo Rai Sikhs,” says an analyst.

Probe on into SAD candidate’s allegation

Fazilka SSP Bhupinder Singh said investigation was on into Dibbipura’s allegation that related to polling booth number 30 at Shivalik Public School. The SAD candidate had claimed that Ramesh Kumar, a booth agent of Congress nominee Raminder Awla, was trying to influence voters.

Kumar is a resident of Guru Har Sahai town in Ferozepur. Dibbipura and his aides took Ramesh to the City police station. “Nothing objectionable was found from Ramesh, but a probe is on,” the SSP added.

In other incidents, Congress and Akali workers entered into a heated argument at the Jalalabad market committee office; at a polling booth at the block development office, SAD’s tent was uprooted in a clash with Congress workers. The issue was resolved after Jasbir Awla, brother of Congress candidate Raminder, along with Anumeet Hira Sodhi, and Akali leader Satinder Singh Manta and others reached the spot and pacified workers.

Jalalabad SDM-cum-returning officer Keshav Goyal told HT, “There has been no complaint against any candidate regarding violation of the model code of conduct. Law and order situation during polling in this segment, located near the India-Pakistan border, remained normal.”

2nd bypoll in 10 years

Over the past 10 years starting 2009, this was the second by-poll in the constituency. In 2007, Ghubaya was elected as MLA, but he had to vacate the seat after Sukhbir decided to enter Punjab’s electoral politics in 2009, when the SAD-BJP was in power in the state. Bypolls were held that year and Sukhbir won by 80,000 votes. In 2012 assembly elections, he won from here by 52,240 votes; in 2017, the margin fell to 18,500 votes. ------ With inputs from HTC, Ferozepur