In a byelection neither the Congress nor AAP had contested, the Shiromani Akali Dal completed the formality of wresting Khadoor Sahib, Punjab, from the Congress Tuesday. Ravinder Singh Brahmpura polled 83,080 votes out of 1.10 lakh, winning by 65,664 votes against Bhupinder Singh Bittu, a rebel expelled by the Congress. Brahmpura’s vote share was 80 per cent, with all others losing their deposit.
The Congress dismissed the victory and said the real test would be in the 2017 assembly polls while Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said the result had laid the foundation for a SAD-BJP victory next year.
The previous Congress MLA, Ramanjit Singh Sikki, had quit last October citing incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib across Punjab. The Congress had stayed away blaming the government for failing to punish the culprits. It had hoped for a low turnout to take the sheen off the Akali Dal victory and, indeed, only 58 per cent turned out as against 80 per cent in 2012.
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Badal mocked the opposition for skipping the bypoll. “Do you contest elections only to gain power and run away from the people if there is no chance of your forming a government?” Badal said in a statement. “People have punished them for abandoning the holy town of Khadoor Sahib for cheap political and selfish interests.”
Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh, for his part, called the bypoll “an election of the Badals, by the Badals for the Badals and Badals alone, as no one else was interested, concerned or bothered about it. Issues that prompted the byelection are still unresolved”.
But some Congressmen are not so sanguine. Despite the Congress having told its flock not to turn out, the rebel Congressman managed to draw nearly 18,000 votes.
“Bittu’s score may not be impressive but he has not done badly at all, considering that the Congress had boycotted the election. He polled at least half the votes (35,519) Sikki brought in for the party’s Lok Sabha candidate in 2014,” said a senior Congress leader.
Congress leaders who had been in favour of contesting say their point was proved. The party could barely manage a “partial boycott”, plus it lost an opportunity to test the waters ahead of 2017. “We could have been a barometer of how people’s anger against Akalis manifested itself,” said another senior Congress leader.
If there is any disquiet over the low turnout, Akali Dal leaders are not showing it. “We kept saying the proof of the pudding would be apparent. And here it is, for everybody to see. The Congress needs a rethink on what people think about them,” said Parambans Singh Romana, an Akali leader.