August 6, 2021 7:59:04 am
In his nearly 27-minute address before announcing 13 poll promises of Shiromani Akali Dal – Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance earlier this week, Shiromani Akali Sal president Sukhbir Singh Badal invoked the name of his father at least 30 times as he listed “pro-people” initiatives introduced by the five time Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.
In a do or die battle which is set to have a decisive bearing on his political career, the Ferozepur MP who heads the hundred year old party is going all out for 2022 Assembly elections, invoking the “legacy” of senior Badal who is not politically active on ground of late, but continues to remain in touch with constituents over phone from his Badal village residence.
The nonagenarian Lambi MLA has largely not attended the proceedings in Punjab Vidhan Sabha – except for two occasions in 2017 – after Congress stormed to power in Punjab, winning 77 seats in 117-member House and his Akali Dal finished a distant third with 15 seats in one of the worst electoral performances.
There is an uncertainty whether the Akali patriarch will contest the 2022 elections, even as a senior Akali leader said if “health allowed”, Parkash Singh Badal will throw his hat in electoral ring. A party leader in Malwa, however, added: “If senior Badal does not contest, someone from the family, and most likely Sukhbir, will contest from Lambi, in addition to Jalalabad for which he has already announced his candidature”.
Under Sukhbir’s command, Akali Dal is off the blocks quite early, in terms of announcing tickets for 2022 elections. Beginning March 14, nearly a year ahead of elections, Sukhbir announced his own candidature from Jalalabad and in subsequent days, while addressing ‘Punjab mangda jawab (Punjab seeks an answer)’ rallies against Congress government, announced the names Virsa Singh Valtoha from Khemkaran, Amarpal Singh Bony from Ajnala, Gulzar Singh Ranike from Attari, N K Sharma from Dera Bassi, Janmeja Singh Sekhon from Zira and Jeet Mohinder Singh Sidhu from Talwandi Sabo.
SAD has also engaged a team led by poll strategist Sunil Kanugolu, who was once an associate of Prashant Kishor before starting his own consultancy. Konugolu’s team has already fanned out across constituencies in Punjab. A mix from Karnataka, where it is located, and persons engaged from Punjab have been placed to co-ordinate with local leaders, focus on social media outreach and plan the campaign for SAD.
In addition to in-charge for each constituency, another in-charge by Kanugolu team has been placed as zonal head, where a number of constituencies have been clustered into a zone, said a senior Akali leader.
The leader added that all the expenses, including putting up flex boards, advertisements and hoardings were to be borne by the party representatives of the constituency who would contest the election on SAD ticket.
The Akali leader further said that among other things, wall paintings for the campaign would begin shortly. The leader said the Kanugolu team had been tasked to ensure maximum outreach of recent pre-poll promises announced by Sukhbir.
A source in SAD said that the consultant had also planned a nearly three-month schedule for Sukhbir, where he will visit each constituency. The constituency wise rallies would are scheduled to kick off this month itself.
As per the SAD-BSP alliance stitched on June 12 this year, the Akalis will contest on 97 seats and while former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati-led party will contest on 20 seats. The equation may slightly change, if SAD gets into an alliance with CPI and CPI (M) for which it has had talks in the past.
Sukhbir took over as party president in 2008 and has been getting re-elected since then. In 2012 elections, SAD returned to power for a second consecutive term, the first time in the electoral history of the state where ruling party won two back to back elections. In 2017 elections, however, SAD was routed badly as new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) emerged as the main opposition. Subsequently, there was revolt against Sukhbir by section of veteran Akali leaders, who blamed him for party’s poll debacle in 2017 elections.
Two of the senior leaders who had revolted against him, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Ranjit Singh Brahampura floated their own parties before merging those to Shiromani Akal Dal (Sanyukt) later. Amarpal Singh Bony, who was announced as SAD candidate for 2022 elections from Ajnala, is the son of former Akali MP Rattan Singh Ajnala, who had also raised a banner of revolt against Sukhbir.
A senior party leader said, “2022 elections are a litmus test for Sukhbir Badal”. The leader added that despite leading and planning the election largely on his own, it was imperative for Sukhbir to “count on the legacy of senior Badal”. The leader added, “Senior Badal might not be campaigning actively, but his legacy remains, the way he and other senior party leaders, some of which are no longer with SAD, led different agitations and opposed emergency. That legacy remains.”
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