Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Eyeing hat-trick, Harsimrat Kaur faces tough test in SAD stronghold Bathinda
Shiromani Akali Dal, which has fielded Union minister Harsimrat Kaur from the Bathinda Lok Sabha seat, has an enviable electoral record in the segment. The party has won five out of six times in past two-and-a-half decades, and few party leaders see Kaur having any difficulty in romping home.Updated: May 09, 2019 14:55 IST
Union minister and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidate Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the daughter-in-law of five-time chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and wife of party president Sukhbir Singh Badal, is pulling out all the stops to score a hattrick from the Bathinda Lok Sabha constituency.
The Akali Dal has an enviable electoral record in the segment, winning five out of six times in past two-and-a-half decades, and few party leaders see her having any difficulty in romping home.
Though she exudes a lot of confidence, Harsimrat has a tough contest at hand as she faces three MLAs — Amrinder Singh Raja Warring of the state’s ruling Congress, Punjab Ekta Party (PEP) chief Sukhpal Singh Khaira and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) nominee Baljinder Kaur — with Warring being the main challenger.
A two-time MLA from Gidderbaha, Warring was fielded by the Congress after Manpreet Badal, who is now finance minister in the Amarinder Singh government, and Navjot Kaur Sidhu, wife of local bodies minister and Congress’ star campaigner Navjot Singh Sidhu, refused to contest. He is somewhat of a lightweight in pedigree when compared with her opponents in the 2014 and 2009 polls — Manpreet Badal and Raninder Singh, son of chief minister Amarinder Singh.
While she had scored an emphatic victory over Raninder and scraped past Manpreet by a narrow margin, both her wins came when the Badal family was ruling the state and showered government largesse on her seat.
Khaira, who set up PEP after leading a revolt against AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, and Baljinder are muddying the poll waters. Though AAP had fared poorly in the last parliamentary elections, it created political tremors by winning five of nine assembly segments that fall in Bathinda Lok Sabha constituency in the 2017 assembly polls. The Congress and SAD got just two each. Plagued by ceaseless infighting, the rookie party is now in tatters.
The three — Warring, Harsimrat and Khaira — are claiming to have the support of the majority of those who voted for AAP in 2017. Of the five AAP MLAs, Mansa legislator Nazar Singh Manshahia and Maur MLA Jagdev Kamalu rebelled and backed Khaira last year, but the former has switched sides to the Congress and resigned from the assembly. The AAP pitchforked Baljinder, sitting MLA from Talwandi Sabo, into the contest to counter Khaira, but her campaign has been lacklustre so far. Both are being seen as splitters of anti-Akali votes, but Khaira dismisses this as a bid to confuse the voters. He is toiling hard to pose a serious challenge.
Panthic issues dominate campaign
The desecration of Guru Granth Sahib and the subsequent police firing on Sikh protesters during the Akali government in 2015 dominate the poll narrative in many parts of the constituency. Both Warring and Khaira have been railing against the Badals to tap into anger among the Sikhs on sacrilege incidents.
Calling Akali Dal patriarch Badal, who led the SAD-BJP government, ‘panth da doshi’, Warring says he and Sukhbir will get their comeuppance for playing with religious sentiments of Sikhs. “Badal is the dad of Punjab politics. What do you think he is apologising for? He knows there is anger among Sikhs,” he says.
Similarly, Khaira feels the sacrilege and the Kotkapura-Behbal Kalan police firing have sealed the fate of Akalis. “It is a hot issue. People also want an answer from the Congress on what they have done to punish the perpetrators,” he says.
Harsimrat, however, dismisses all these accusations as “phandi prachar” (false propaganda) by the Congress government for political gains. “The Congress has been in power for two-and-a-half years. They have set up a commission and appointed police officers to create evidence. If they have evidence, they should put us in jail or stop their misinformation campaign,” she says in her speeches before lashing out at the Congress for the 1984 antiSikh riots and protecting those who led the violence and Operation Bluestar. The slanging match seems set to intensify with the Dhian Singh Mand-led Bargari Insaaf Morcha taking out a march in the constituency on Wednesday.
Past performance Vs development promise
The Akali nominee is counting on her people connect and development such as AIIMS, better roads, drinking water facilities, etc undertaken in the constituency during her stints when her party was also in power in the state. “I not only brought the administrative machinery at their doorsteps to ensure that all their grievances were taken care of, but unprecedented development was also undertaken in entire area. What has the Congress done?” she says, reeling off a long of list of lofty promises such as total farm loan waiver, jobs, unemployment allowance and free mobile phones made by the Congress that remain unfulfilled.
Both Khaira and Baljinder have also been hitting out at the Congress government over its unkept election promises, but Warring blames it on ‘khaali khajana’ (empty coffers). “Our government waived farm loans of 8.5 lakh farmers, enhanced ‘shagun’ amount and hiked pensions. People know we are better than Akalis and we will keep our word. We still have more than two years,” he says before making a few more promises.
First Published: May 09, 2019 14:23 IST