Timing and margin sweeten Congress’ Shahkot bypoll victory

The winning margin of more than 38,000 votes as against the party strategists’ expectation of up to 28,000, is surely enough to silence the critics for now.

punjab Updated: Jun 01, 2018 09:56 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Shahkot bypoll,Congress,Captain Amarinder Singh
Winner Hardev Singh Ladi Sherowalia celebrating with supporters in Shahkot on Thursday. (Pardeep Pandit/HT )

Given the trend of bypolls in Punjab, outcome of the Shahkot assembly contest was a foregone conclusion, but the “unexpected” margin could not have come at a better time for the state’s ruling Congress, particularly for chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh. He got a loud reply to the voices of dissent that have started churning in the party after the cabinet expansion.

There have, in the past two months, been reports of displeasure in the rank and file of the party over Amarinder’s style of functioning, with some disgruntled legislators even getting the ear of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. The winning margin of more than 38,000 votes as against the party strategists’ expectation of up to 28,000, is surely enough to silence the critics for now.

Also, the Congress has now got a two-thirds majority in the House after wresting this Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) bastion — 78 of 117 seats. The SAD, which was behind the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the opposition camp too, is left with 14. Another favourable outcome for the chief minister is the Congress’ almost complete takeover of the AAP base. This is a positive sign for the Congress with barely a year left for the Lok Sabha polls, in which Punjab has a history of the state’s ruling party performing below par.

What further gives the CM a claim over this victory is that the Congress focused the campaign on Amarinder’s 14 months at the helm. “Even I was not expecting this sort of margin. It is certainly a stamp on the pro-people decisions taken by my government, be it the decision to waive farm loans or the improvement in law and order,” Amarinder said while talking to the media immediately after the result.

“The result is the impact of good governance provided by CM Captain Amarinder Singh. It has also set the tone for Lok Sabha polls, and under his leadership we will win all seats,” said state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar.

The poll was handled by Amarinder’s close confidants even as former minister Rana Gurjit Singh, who is political guru of the winning candidate Hardev Singh Ladi Sherowalia, was made poll in-charge. It started on a bad note as Ladi was booked in a case of illegal mining hours he was declared the Congress candidate. In the next few days, a worried Amarinder camp took the campaign into its hands and the CM’s political adviser, Captain Sandeep Sandhu, strategised as ‘office manager’.

Aggressive campaigning by SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and former minister Bikram Singh Majithia, and the switching of AAP and Congress leaders to the SAD, added worries for the Congress. To give a fillip to the party campaign, Amarinder backed the Majha brigade of ministers, including Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa and Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, despite opposition from Rana’s camp.

The Majha brigade held fort in the rural areas whereas young ministers, including Bharat Bhuhan and Vijay Inder Singla, were roped in too. Former minister Lal Singh led the party campaign among the Kamboj community, which has a large chunk of votes in the segment. In the end, SAD lost a segment that it had won five times, and Congress got something to tom-tom about as a stamp of approval.

First Published: Jun 01, 2018 09:52 IST