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Thursday, July 07, 2022

Sangrur Lok Sabha bypoll: Low turnout sets tongues wagging in Punjab

Though it is a five-cornered contest, workers of the Opposition Congress and SAD (Badal) could not be seen around polling booths at many places in Dhuri, Sunam and Dirba.

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Dhuri, Malerkotla, Sangrur |
Updated: June 23, 2022 9:01:55 pm
Covid protocols being followed at a booth in Sangrur. (Express Photo: Gurmeet Singh)

Only 29.07 per cent of the electorate cast their vote in the bypoll in Punjab’s Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency—where the turnout was 77.21 per cent in 2014 and 72.40 per cent in 2019—till 3pm on Thursday.

Though it is a five-cornered contest, workers of the Opposition Congress and SAD (Badal) could not be seen around the polling booths at many places in Dhuri, Sunam and Dirba.

A late afternoon tweet of Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann surprised many as he appealed to the Election Commission to extend the polling time from 6pm to 7pm, saying people in rural areas were busy with paddy transplantation. He was asked “why he woke up so late when he already knew that the paddy season was on”.

Outside a polling booth at Malerkotla’s Government College, Mohammad Hussain, an 86-year-old voter, said, “I have voted for the government.”

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However, Liyakat Ali, a property dealer in Malerkotla, said people were angry with the ruling AAP. “The biggest reason is that the MLAs are inaccessible to their voters. They do not entertain even their party workers. So perhaps people prefer to stay at home rather than voting for any other party.” “Ministers Harpal Cheema and Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer have perhaps changed their phone numbers as well. What do they think of the voters?” he added.

Manoj Uppal, working president of the Congress in Malerkotla, saw people’s anger in the low turnout. Kuldeep Kaur, 66, who voted at Government High Smart School at Police Lines in Sangrur, had a different opinion. “We had given so much time to other parties. This new party came into power only three months ago. So we need to give them proper time to perform. It takes time to fulfil the promises,” said the retired teacher.

AAP candidate Gurmel Singh’s posters had the slogan “sarpanch se sansad tak” on his posters. Gurmel is sarpanch of Ghrachon village and also the party’s Sangrur district president. After casting his vote, Gurmel said, “Our party has cracked the whip on corruption and we are taking action against the corrupt people whoever they are. I am aware that youngsters have certain issues related to unemployment. During the campaign, I had listened to them and I will surely raise the issues in Parliament if people vote me to power.”

Simranjit Singh Mann, president of the SAD (Amritsar), said, “On the intervening night of Wednesday and Thursday, the SAD (Badal) circulated a fake letter saying that we are supporting its candidate Kamaldeep Kaur Rajoana. This shows their insecurity. The Badals kept their focus on me rather than the BJP, Congress or the AAP.”

Accusing the BJP of “playing even with armed forces”, Simranjit said he would raise the issues of minorities in Parliament.

“Four years are not enough for military training.. No military man can recommend this type of training,” he said referring to the Agnipath recruitment scheme.

A farmer who came to vote at a government school in Banera said the fight was between the AAP and the SAD(Amritsar). “It seems the fight is between the AAP and the SAD(Amritsar) as we can see booths of these parties at almost every place,” said Gurmeet Singh, adding that the ruling party always had an edge in bypolls.

“In Sunam, the SAD(Amritsar)’s booths had posters of actor Deep Sidhu in the background and their workers had a common slogan, “sword or broom”. This is a question of your existence,” the farmer said.

Young voters were rarely seen at the polling booths. Their participation in the poll campaign was also low. “Government employees, middle-aged people and senior citizens are thinking of giving time to the government, but the youth have gone silent this time,” said Gurdev Singh, from Dhuri, as he used his walking stick to walk back home after voting.

“Sangrur is known for inquilab (revolution). You never know whether they will bring about a new inquilab, three months after winning a huge mandate,” said 66-year-old Zora Singh about the AAP government.

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