The bypolls to four Assembly constituencies in Punjab are being looked at as litmus test for the incumbent Congress government in the state.
The Election Commission Saturday announced that bypolls to Dakha, Jalalabad, Phagwara and Mukerian Assembly seats will be held on October 21 and the counting of votes will be on October 24.
Punjab Chief Electoral Officer S. Karuna Raju said a notification will be issued in this regard on September 23 and nomination process would commence the same day, while September 30 will be the last day to file nominations. The scrutiny of papers will be done on October 1 and last date for the withdrawal of the nomination paper is October 3, he added.
He said with the announcement of bypoll, model code of conduct is enforced in the four constituencies with immediate effect. The CEO said he has informed the deputy commissioners of concerned districts regarding model code of conduct.
Raju further said that Election Commission has fixed an expenditure limit of Rs 28 lakh for the candidate contesting the Assembly election.
Though the byelections do not matter much for the ruling party, which enjoys a brutal majority in the House with 78 members out of the total 117, It would have to put up a good show, failing which it may have to suffer loss of image.
It is generally believed that the byelections usually go the ruling party way and, in this case, the government has completed half of its term. Electors are believed to choose the ruling party candidates for an uninterrupted development of their area. But the bypolls – two in Malwa region and two in Doaba – makes it difficult for a party to concentrate all its efforts in one constituency.
With former deputy chief minister and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal vacating the Jalalabad Assembly seat after his election to Lok Sabha, the Akali Dal may not make it easy for any other party to win the seat. Though Congress is planning to field a moneybags candidate in Raminder Singh Amla from Jalalabad, the Akali Dal is likely to give the ticket to a Rai Sikh candidate to polarise the votes on caste lines. This strategy has worked in the segment in the past.
In Dakha Assembly segment, where Congress is planning to field Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh’s political secretary Capt Sandeep Singh Sandhu, Akalis are betting on Manpreet Ayali. Lok Insaf Party chief Simarjit Singh Bains led in the segment in the Lok Sabha elections this year making it difficult to predict which way the electorate would go.
In Mukerian and Phagwara, SAD’s alliance partner, BJP would be contesting the byelections. Being the ruling party at Centre, BJP would like to give a fierce competition to the Congress in these two segments.
“The results would be the decisive factor for the Congress. If the party fails to perform well, the state’s narrative would change. Loss or victory in these byelections would be considered a mandate of the people in favour of a particular political party,” said a Congress leader on anonymity.
The Congress will be showcasing the debt waiver extended to the farmers and power subsidy. But it may have to go on defensive in the Bargari sacrilege issue.
Amarinder Singh, who was in Ludhiana Saturday, expressed confidence that the Congress will win all the four assembly bypolls and said it is the only party that can ensure the state’s development
The party is prepared to fight the bypolls and its campaign will revolve around the state government’s progressive and welfare schemes, he told reporters at the inauguration of a two-day Kisan and Pashu Palan Mela here. “The people of Punjab will once again put their seal of electoral approval on the Congress, which has proved itself in the last two and a half years of governance in the state. It’s the only party equipped to ensure the development of Punjab,” the chief minister asserted.
He said the people of the state will reject the regressive and divisive politics of opposition parties.
On the other hand, Sukhbir said his party was prepared to teach the ruling Congress the “lesson of a lifetime”. Urging the Election Commission to keep a “special watch” on Punjab to ensure free and fair elections, Sukhbir alleged that “a rootless and a desperate” ruling party is certain to engage in foul play in a bid to escape humiliation.
“There is no such thing as a government in Punjab today. Even the CM remains invisible knowing he cannot face the people after the manner he has remained cut off from the state all this time,” the former deputy chief minister alleged.
He claimed that governance is in a sorry state and people are “crying” even for basic amenities. “The Congress is heading for a rout and it will resort to a brazen misuse of government machinery to save itself from total elimination,” he claimed.
The responsibility of the EC will be the highest in these circumstances, he said.
The SAD cadre isb “excited and enthused” and was looking forward to the announcement of the bypolls, Badal said.