Any ruling party winning a by-election is no surprise,particularly when it had been re-elected comfortably to power just a year back. The by-election for the Moga Assembly constituency in Punjab was,however,different. Not only did it come mid-way between the Assembly elections and the Lok Sabha elections due next year,it was necessitated because of an unusual manoeuvre by Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. He engineered the resignation of the sitting Congress Moga MLA,Joginderpal Jain,only to set him up as the Akali Dal candidate from the same constituency in a bypoll.
With the Akalis already enjoying a comfortable majority with their partner BJP,there was no apparent reason for Sukhbir taking the risk of fielding a turncoat or of allowing the Congress a chance at reducing Jains margin of victory.
Sukhbir,however,appears to have been confident that Jain would again win,that he would improve his winning margin,that the Akalis would deal the Congress yet another embarrassing blow,and that the party would keep up the momentum of its victories.
The Congress cant disagree with any of the above,particularly as PCC chief Capt Amarinder Singh and his team had camped in Moga for the entire duration of the campaign period. Knives are out again in the party for Amarinder,with the latter issuing show cause notices to some party leaders,including three MLAs,for absenting themselves from the campaign.
The win in Moga for the Akalis comes close on the heels of the significant victory notched by Sukhbir in the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee elections.These two victories,which follow the surprisingly comfortable win by the Akalis in the Assembly polls,have strengthened Sukhbirs position within the party. If he can claim that his developmental agenda has found favour with the voters,he can also expect the little resistence remaining within the Akali Dal to his rising star to fade away. The victories may have even paved the way for a smooth transition of power from Badal Sr to son whenever it takes place.
What would be watched with keen interest is whether Sukhbir,who has been accused earlier of highhandedness by senior leaders,is able to handle this string of victories with maturity.
Vipin is Editor (Chandigarh)