Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann, a former IPS officer who had resigned in protest against Op Bluestar in 1984, had not won a single election since 1999 when he had wrested the Sangrur parliamentary seat. Even in the recent Punjab Assembly polls, he had finished in the second spot at the Alamgarh Assembly seat. His party, which had hoped to make a dent in the state polls, did not win a single seat. On Sunday, Mann won the Sangrur bypoll by over 5,800 votes.
Here are five reasons why he won the parliamentary seat of Sangrur, considered a pocket borough of Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, who has won the last two elections from this seat with Simranjt Mann losing his deposit.
Many voters were reportedly unhappy at the inaccessibility of the local legislators. Only four months back, voters had given all the nine Assembly seats in this parliamentary constituency to AAP. Party workers were also reportedly disgruntled with the unresponsive local leadership. Dr G S Sekhon, a political observer, says the choice of seven Rajya Sabha candidates also did not go down well with the electorate as none of them represented Malwa, the belt which AAP had swept, winning 66 of the 69 seats.
There was a lot of anger and grief at the killing of popular Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala on May 29. He was shot dead days after his security cover was withdrawn by the AAP government. Moosewala’s fans openly blamed the government for his killing, pointing out how it had put him in harm’s way by sharing the list on the social media of those whose security had been revoked. Moosewala, who hailed from a village in the neighbouring Mansa, enjoyed a tremendous fan following in the region.
Although Moosewala had fought the Assembly elections on a Congress ticket, it was no secret that he had decided to support Simranjit Singh Mann in this election, a fact the latter flaunted in his poll campaign and ads.
Simranjit Mann, who was in political wilderness, gained relevance during the protests against sacrilege during the Akali-BJP rule in 2015 when he was successful in getting a sizeable number of people to attend a ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ meeting. He got a further push during the farm agitation when influencers like late Deep Sidhu aligned with him. The bid to paint the agitation as divisive on the social media gave credence to leaders like Mann, who had always been highlighting the so-called “excesses” of the Central government. This time around, he made it a contest between “the secular forces and those of the ultra-right, including Congress, AAP and BJP.’’
The party fielded Gurmel Singh, a little-known sarpanch of Gharachon village from the area. Although a close confidante of the CM who had handled his Dhuri office during the Assembly elections, Gurmel paled in comparison to Bhagwant Mann himself, and could do little to reverse the anti-government angst on the issue of Moosewala’s death. Though CM Bhagwant Mann did spend the last couple of days in Sangrur, it was too late by then to win over voters
It was arguably for the first time that Sangrur saw five parties wooing for its votes. The unsaid message was that AAP should be kept out. While Congress fielded Dalvir Goldy, who had contested against Bhagwant Mann from Dhuri in the Assembly elections, BJP fielded Kewal Dhillon, a well-heeled industrialist and former Congress legislator; and Akali Dal gave its ticket to Kamaldeep Kaur, sister of Balwant Singh Rajoana, a death row convict in the former CM Beant Singh assassination case. Interestingly, the BJP candidate who had been contesting assembly elections from Barnala (in Sangrur district) in the past, polled more votes than Akali Dal.