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Shahkot bypoll: Congress looks a divided house

PPCC general secy Sandeep Sandhu is poll in-charge; yet, former minister Rana Gurjit Singh, the political guru of candidate Ladi, has been vying to gain parallel control of campaigning, party insiders claim.

punjab Updated: May 25, 2018 13:07 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Shahkot (Jalandhar)
Jalandhar,Shahkot bypoll,Sandeep Sandhu
PPCC president Sunil Jakhar addressing a rally in Maheru village of the constituency on Thursday. Local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu is also seen.(Pardeep Pandit/HT)

Even as pollsters give the edge to the ruling Congress party to win the Shahkot assembly seat, the bypoll for which will be held on March 28 (Sunday), the party rank and file has raised doubts over the co-ordination and synergy among its leadership. Two groups are vying for the control of the election process.

Kapurthala MLA and former minister Rana Gurjit Singh, the political guru of Ladi, wants to control the election process. Even as he makes his efforts, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) general secretary Sandeep Sandhu has been working as the election in-charge.

Sandhu resigned from his post as political adviser to chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh to work here. Camped here for the past few days, Sandhu has been co-ordinating with MLAs and ministers to implement the party’s strategy.

A senior minister, who is campaigning in the constituency, told HT, “Most ministers and many MLAs have been camping here for the past week. However, the party has looked a divided house as far as planning and implementing a strategy for the by-poll is concerned.”

  • Liquor bottles on offer: Two days before campaigning ends, liquor bottles, carrying no label, are being served in the constituency. The box in which the bottles are being distributed carries the label ‘First Choice’. SAD leaders are warning people against having the liquor. “Please, do not have this ‘First Choice’. It will become your ‘Last Choice’,” said SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal.
  • Sandman: SAD’s moniker for Ladi: Former Congress deputy home minister, Brij Bhupinder Singh Lalli, who joined the SAD after being denied a ticket, is addressing rallies with Sukhbir. At one such rally, he said, “Knowing Sherowalia’s involvement in sand mining, people have started calling him ‘Reta-walia’ (Reta means sand) instead of ‘Sherowalia’.”
  • Will promote ex-SHO, says Majithia: Majithia told a rally that inspector, Parminder Bajwa, who as SHO Mehatpur, had registered a case of illegal mining against Congress candidate Ladi, would be posted as DSP Shahkot, if they won. “Imagine, Ladi’s fate when Bajwa is DSP. Even as SHO, he gave Ladi the jitters,” Majithia said.
  • Sidhu’s punishment for Majithia: Local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu told a gathering, of the punishment he plans for Majithia. He said he would punish Majithia with Punjab Police belts beating down on him in rthym to the beats of a popular Hindi song, ‘Aan Milo Sajna’.

‘Rana opposing party strategy’

A senior party functionary claimed that Rana had opposed Sandhu’s strategy. Rana had also expressed his displeasure on, what he claimed was the long rope given to the Majha Express, in managing the bypoll. In the Congress, the Majha Express refers to leaders from the Majha belt of the state.

The ‘Rana group’ even opposed the invitation to local bodies minister Navjot Singh Sidhu. “However, with the intervention of senior leaders, mainly from Majha, Sidhu addressed rallies on Wednesday and Thursday,” a source said, adding that Ladi was banking on Rana and his team. Rana is seen addressing 10-15 meetings a day to canvass for Ladi.

“During elections, candidates even reach out to opponents. I am clueless on the strategy of Ladi’s campaigners. Even initially, they did not reach out to other ticket seekers, ensuring that most of them joined the SAD after he was given the party ticket,” said a senior MLA from Malwa region.

Rana was not available for comments, with his aides saying he was campaigning for Ladi. “There is no difference in strategy and we will win with a historic margin,” said Sandhu.

Four ministers have stayed away

Party insiders claim that Rana’s presence in the constituency has meant that four ministers, Brahm Mohindra; Razia Sultana; Aruna Chaudhary and Charanjit Channi, are yet to campaign. The last date of campaigning is May 26. PPCC chief Sunil Jakhar, who also does not share a cordial political relationship with Rana, addressed rallies on Thursday. He was last seen in the constituency during the filing of nomination.

On a query, if he was late for campaigning, Jakhar said, “We first planned a door-to-door campaign. Now, I and Sidhu are holding public meetings. The climax of our campaign will be the CM’s roadshow on May 26.”

When it was pointed out to him that the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had been campaigning full steam with party president Sukhbir Singh Badal and former revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia camping in the constituency for the past 10 days, Jakhar said, “The Akalis are free and they have a lot of explaining to do for false cases registered under their charge. They are going door-to-door and making excuses.”

First Published: May 25, 2018 13:03 IST