Lok Sabha Elections 2019: No party’s pocket borough, Anandpur Sahib constituency is anybody’s game
No party has won twice in a row in Anandpur Sahib Lok Sabha constituency since the last five elections.
Right next door to state capital Chandigarh, Anandpur Sahib is the quintessential hot seat this poll season. Not having returned the same party victorious second time in a row since the last five elections, it is no one’s pocket borough.
It is Punjab’s most contentious seat too. Home to one of the five takhts of Sikhism, all Panthic offshoots of the Bargari sacrilege protest are vying for it, and a deal breaker for those wanting to stitch up alliances.
Breakaway Akali faction SAD (Taksali) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) called off their talks for a pact after the seat became a bone of contention between them.
The AAP refused to withdraw its candidate Narinder Singh Shergill and Taksalis dug in their heels over former Vidhan Sabha deputy speaker Bir Devinder Singh.
The Taksalis also rebuffed the offer of the Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA) cobbled up by AAP rebel Punjab Ekta Party chief Sukhpal Singh Khaira.
Their point of discord too was the Anandpur Sahib seat. The PDA has fielded Vikram Singh Sodhi of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has got three seats as part of the deal.
Questioning the choice of Taksalis, Khaira says the BSP polled 70,000 votes in 2014 parliamentary polls in Anandpur Sahib and over 1 lakh in 2009 elections. “What is Bir Devinder Singh’s poll record? He is not such a prominent face. Ranjit Singh Brahmpura (Taksali chief) is running his writ over others in the party. He was hoping that the AAP will withdraw its candidate but Shergill is funding the campaign of state AAP chief Bhagwant Mann and meeting party’s day-to-day expenses,” Khaira says.
Taksalis contend that the BSP polled just 2% votes in 2014 elections. “Yet Khaira gave three seats to the BSP. The PDA is not an alliance but a lifafa (envelope) where different AAP rebels are huddled together. A pact requires give and take. Khaira had promised both Anandpur Sahib and Khadoor Sahib to us.
Their plan to contest both is an afterthought. Our candidate (former army chief JJ Singh) was already campaigning in Khadoor Sahib when he announced the name of Paramjit Kaur Khalra,” Brahmpura says.
The BSP is also contesting reserved seats of Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur as part of the PDA.
Congress’ many challenges
As poll pacts fail, the ruling Congress cannot hope to win Anandpur Sahib just going by its revolving door history. The seat is not without its challenges. With no sitting party MP, it is an open seat as its candidate in last polls, Ambika Soni, is a Rajya Sabha member.
Proximity to Chandigarh also makes it an easy seat to campaign and those residing in Mohali, including kin and loyalists of Congress leaders, are staking a claim for it.
It is also witnessing a caste churning. After Sainis were given the other backward class status in 2016, the percentage of OBCs in Anandpur Sahib has gone up to over 30% and they have thrown their lot together after being denied a berth in the state cabinet. Former president Giani Zail Singh of the Ramgarhia community (among the OBCs) has once represented the seat.
Anandpur Sahib also remains notorious for illegal sand mining, which the AAP says will be its main poll plank. “Illegal mining is rampant in the district and I had openly told chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh on the floor of the state assembly during the recent session that one of his close aides is involved in it. The issue is enough to defeat Congress here,” says AAP legislator Amarjit Singh Sandoa.
With five sitting MLAs — Mohali, Chamkaur Sahib, Anandpur Sahib, Nawanshahar and Balachaur — the odds are stacked in favour of the Congress at a time when the graph of Akalis and the AAP is not looking too good.
But Prem Singh Chandumajra of the Shiromani Akali Dal won the seat last time in a three-way split of votes between the Congress, Akalis and AAP.
With a multi-cornered contest again on cards, it can be anybody’s game.