Miffed at denial of ticket from Sangrur where Congress has named former MP Vijay Inder Singla as its candidate for the upcoming Assembly polls, Congress veteran Surinder Pal Singh Sibia joined Shiromani Akali Dal Saturday evening at the official residence of SAD president and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal here. Calling the switch-over as a “major blow” to Congress in five constituencies of Barnala, Sangrur, Sunam, Bhadaur and Mehal Kalan and a “big shot in the arm of Shiromani Akali Dal”, Sukhbir declared Sibia as party candidate from Barnala.
The name of Trident Group chairman and SAD general secretary Rajinder Gupta had been doing the rounds as the party candidate from Barnala. On Saturday, SAD was all praise for Gupta for facilitating Sibia’s entry into the party by holding talks with him.
The press conference was delayed for about an hour as Sukhbir waited for Gupta before announcing Sibia’s entry into SAD and his candidature from Barnala. As the wait got longer, Sukhbir eventually began the conference, with Sibia and accompanying Congress leaders sitting with him. Gupta arrived in middle of the conference in a chartered flight from Delhi.
Sukhbir said with the entry of Sibia into Congress, Congress’s base in five constituencies ceased to exist. He predicted an “atomic explosion” in Congress in the next 10 days with rebels opposing candidates announced by the party.
While the Congress had announced Singla as the party candidate from Sangrur in the first list of candidates, it announced Daman Thind Bajwa as party candidate from Sunam in the second list of 16 candidates released on Friday. After denial of ticket from Sangrur, Sibia was believed to have been seeking ticket from Sunam.
After joining SAD, Sibia said Congress had “offered him Sunam seat”, but he refused. He said he told the Congress leadership that they should field Vijay Inder Singla from Sunam who had contested unsuccessfully from Sangrur in 2014 parliamentary polls. Sunam Assembly segment is part of Sangrur parliamentary constituency.
Talking about his “40-year-long journey” with Congress where he passed “every loyalty test”, Sibia said, “Congress was no longer honouring people having truthful credentials”.
Calling Congress a party of capitalists, Sibia said that in the elections between 1997 to 2012, Congress took him for a ride, shifting his candidature to make way for the moneybags. He said he lost by a thin margin from Sangrur in 1997 and was shifted to Barnala in 2002 elections by the party to make way for candidature of “sarmayedar” (money bag) Arvind Khanna. Sibia said while he worked hard in Barnala despite having lost, in 2007 elections, Congress decided to field “crorepati” Kewal Singh Dhillon from Barnala. “I was asked to contest from Sangrur. I won the seat,” said Sibia. He lost from Sangrur in 2012 polls.
SAD MP in Rajya Sabha Sukhdev Dhindsa, who was also present, said Sibia was a “big pillar of Congress in Sangrur and Barnala”. He said with entry of Sibia in SAD, Congress was finished in Sangrur district.