Chandigarh: It may be just a by-election, but so much is at stake for various political parties in Punjab. With Assembly elections in the state not too far away (early next year), the Khadoor Sahib by-election in the border district of Tarn Taran has become crucial for both the ruling Akalis and the main opposition -- Congress.
Khadoor Sahib election became necessary when Congress MLA Ramanjit Singh Sikki resigned from the seat late last year to protest against growing incidents of sacrileges of the Holy Guru Granth Sahib.
Scheduled to be held on 13 February, both the Akalis and the Congress are geared up for the poll. Surprisingly the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which hopes to wrest power from the Akalis in the next Assembly poll, has opted to stay out of the contest. On the other hand, Swaraj Abhiyan, now a full-fledged party has decided to test election waters. Headed by Yogendra Yadav, who broke away from AAP, Swaraj Abhiyan, which was earlier only a socio-political entity, has decided to back independent candidate Bhai Baldeep Singh known to be close to Yadav.
Former state convener of AAP, Sumail Sidhu, who formed his Voluntary Coordination Committee a few months ago has also thrown his hat in the election ring. With AAP not contesting the Khadoor Sahib by-poll, Sidhu’s candidature is bound to get a boost.
While the Akalis have fielded Ravinder Singh Brahmpura, son of sitting MP from Khadoor Sahib, Ranjit Brahmpura for the Khadoor Sahib poll, Ramanjit Singh Sikki’s name has been cleared by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Aware of the importance of the Khadoor Sahib seat, the Akalis have tried to nurture it. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal made a 'Sangat Darshan' tour of the Vidhan Sabha constituency just before the announcement of the poll and allocated around Rs 35 crore for various developmental works.
AAP’s rally on 13 January in Muktsar during the Maghi Mela in the presence of AAP national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was a huge success and the crowds present there were almost twice as much as both Akalis and the Congress. It therefore came as a surprise when the party announced it was not going to contest the by poll.
"There is no point in contesting the Khadoor Sahib seat which will be held by the winner for just a few months. We are aiming higher-at the assembly polls. Our focus will be to win all the 117 seats to form the AAP government in Punjab," said AAP leader Sanjay Singh while talking to the media in Chandigarh a few days ago. Sucha Singh Chhotepur, AAP Punjab Convenor, said the party could not afford to spend money and energy for the sake of a single seat, that too for just a few months. We are concentrating on the bigger battle-the 2017 state assembly elections," he said.
Talking to Firstpost, Dharamvira Gandhi, the suspended AAP MP from Patiala, criticised AAP’s decision to opt out of the by-poll race in the state. "It is like accepting defeat before the contest," he said.
For the ruling Akalis, the Khadoor Sahib election is surely a prestige issue and the party is making a fervent bid to win the seat. Akalis cannot let its main challenger, the Congress walk away with the seat. Akalis, however are not getting support of alliance partner BJP. Unhappy with the treatment meted out to the BJP, Tarn Taran BJP chief has announced not to extend any support to the Akali candidate in the forthcoming by-poll.
For the Congress, it is a time to test the mood of the electorate less than a year before Assembly elections in Punjab. It is true that whoever wins the Khadoor Sahib seat will be able to retain it for just a few months, but both the parties are going all out to contest poll on a serious note.
Congress leaders are confident of winning the Khadoor Sahib seat. The reasons are not far to seek. Akalis are known to espouse the Panthic cause and Khadoor Sahib is known to identify with a Panthic character. Yet despite Akalis’ nine-year rule in Punjab, the seat was held by the Congress party. In fact Congress won three of the nine segments, including the seat at stake now of the Khadoor Sahib Lok Sabha constituency in the 2012 assembly elections.
Led by newly elected Punjab state Congress president, Capt Amarinder Singh, the party is hoping to get public sympathy in the poll over the fact that the Congress MLA, Sikki resigned the seat for the Panthic cause. He claimed that pained by the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in Bargari village and the failure of the Akali-BJP government to bring the culprits to task, he had decided to quit his seat.
The by-poll is being seen as a kind of leadership test for Capt Amarinder Singh. A win would give the Congress a shot in the arm before the forthcoming assembly elections. Defeat for the Akalis would make further dent in party’s confidence now also battling anti-incumbency.
Talking to Firstpost Harinder Singh Khalsa, one of the two suspended AAP MPs from Fatehgarh Sahib, Punjab, said AAP backed out of the by-poll contest because the party was not prepared and did not want to take a risk. He said the independent candidate Bhai Baldeep Singh, who is a scholar, singer and a social worker was a strong contender for the Khadoor Sahib seat.
Sukhpal Khaira, who recently quit Congress to join AAP, told Firstpost the party was not contesting the by-poll as it was aiming higher to secure victory in the next assembly elections in Punjab.