With Shahkot Assembly bypoll win, the Punjab Congress has not only turned 78 in an Assembly of 117, but has also snatched an Akali bastion, besides decimating the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the constituency.
Congress had 77 MLAs in the Assembly earlier. Winning Shahkot seat was important for the ruling Congress in Punjab since a bypoll is usually considered a barometer of its popularity. Besides, the bypoll was being considered a precursor to the Lok Sabha elections due in 2018. Also, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had been winning the seat continuously for last 41 years, except in 1992 when it boycotted the Assembly elections during terrorism. With the loss of Shahkot, SAD’s tally is reduced to 14 from 15.
From 1977 to 1992, the seat was represented by ex-Akali minister late Balwant Singh for three terms. In 1992, Akalis boycotted elections and Congress’s Brij Bhupinder Singh was elected. Singh switched sides to SAD recently. In 1997, the seat went to Ajit Singh Kohar of SAD, who won it for five consecutive times before passing away in February this year and necessitating a byelection.
It was not an easy victory for Congress as its candidate Hardev Singh Laddi Sherowalia was embroiled in an illegal sand mining controversy as soon as he was named the candidate. The then Mehatpur SHO, Parminder Singh Bajwa, registered a case against him and went to the extent of mocking the CM by commenting on his personal life. The Congress then pushed all its ministers into the campaign.
On the other hand , SAD chief and former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal was virtually camping in Shahkot. He managed to rope at least six senior Congress and AAP leaders into his party to create a perception in favour of the party. Besides, the party was banking on sympathy votes for Kohar’s son, who was SAD candidate.
“They got all the leaders while we got the AAP workers. In the end, it is the workers who matter,” said Capt Sandeep Singh Sandhu, Congress general secretary in-charge of Sherowalia’s campaign.
While SAD is humbled, AAP is down in the dumps. Starting from candidate’s choice to lack of cohesiveness in the state unit for its campaign, all the factors contributed to its nemesis. Party’s co-convener Dr Balbir Singh has said the party would introspect.