In the first election for a Lok Sabha seat fought by it without estranged ally Akali Dal in Punjab, the BJP dealt its former partner a nasty blow. While the winner from the Sangrur seat was SAD (Amritsar) president Simranjit Singh Mann, the BJP secured more than votes than the Akali Dal.
The result might have surprised even BJP leaders, who had been saying in private during the campaign that they had nothing to lose but hoped to make a few gains. In the results declared Sunday, the BJP ‘s Kewal Singh Dhillon got 66,298 votes, against Akali Dal-BSP candidate Kamaldeep Kaur Rajoana’s 44,428 votes.
Along with the Congress’s candidate, who finished third, and Rajoana, Dhillon too had his security deposit forfeited.
A former Congress MLA who joined the BJP a day before he was given the ticket from Sangrur, Dhillon noted the importance of the result in his remarks after the results. “We accept our defeat and respect the verdict of the masses. But it seems the lotus has bloomed in the desert. For the BJP, this place was totally new as the Akali Dal contested from here earlier. Hence getting more votes than the Akalis is a big achievement for us… Our preparations for 2024 have started from today.”
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Welcoming the results, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had expressed “gratitude” to the voters in Punjab as well, along with other states.
The Sangrur result was also doubly painful for the Akali Dal as Simranjit Singh Mann’s win was a direct blow to its own credentials as the Panthic bulwark. Soon after he won, Mann a radical, pro-Khalistan Sikh leader noted that he had defeated candidates of all national parties, while his supporters demanded that the SGPC be “freed” from the Akali Dal.
BJP state general secretary Subash Sharma said the party had used the election to reach out to as many voters as it could, in the Lok Sabha seat held by AAP star face and Chief Minister, Bhagwant Mann. “There are around 990 villages in this constituency covering three districts of Punjab and we had a booth in almost every village… 95% of the places… We sat with villagers, had tea with them and discussed with them Modiji’s works for Punjab and the Sikhs.”
BJP Punjab vice-president Parveen Bansal said they had told voters that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had got the Kartarpur Sahib corridor to Pakistan opened, declared December 26 as Veer Bal Diwas to mark the martyrdom of the four sons of Guru Gobind Singh, got the culprits of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots punished and taken other such measures. “We deliver and not just talk… Soon, civic bodies will also deliver results in favour of the BJP.”
Sharma said it was important for the BJP to register a presence in Sangrur. “We consider it the toughest parliamentary constituency of Punjab as it was the epicentre of the farmer agitation. All farmer unions have their stronghold in Sangrur and Barnala. But we still managed to get votes from almost every village. So our foundation for 2024 has been set, our persistent hard work will continue.”
Satwant Singh Punia, working committee member of the state BJP, also talked about this. “We had no proper cadre in villages, and till December last year, we were not even allowed to enter villages. Still we managed to get a good response,” Punia said.
Bikramjeet Singh Cheema, the president of the Punjab unit of the BJP’s Kisan Morcha, said: “When we can perform better than the Akali Dal in the toughest areas, in the rest we will deliver for sure.” A jubilant Aman Punia, co-convener of the Morcha, said the achievement was remarkable. “Farmers had staged a pucca dharna outside our house in Sangrur for more than 16 months, which was lifted only in mid-December last year.”
The BJP got more votes than the Akali Dal in Barnala, Dhuri, Lehragaga, Malerkotla, Sunam and Sangrur while they were ahead of both the Akalis and Congress in the Barnala and Lehragaga Assembly segments. Even in Muslim-dominated Malerkotla, where the party contested in 2014 and 2019 without Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the campaign material, it finished ahead of the Akalis.
In the recent Assembly polls when AAP had swept all the nine Assembly segments of Sangrur, the BJP had got 85,509 votes in all, or 5% of the total. This has inched up to 9.33%. The Akalis in alliance with BSP had got approximately 12% of the votes, and now polled 6.25%. In the 2019 general elections, when the Akali Dal had fought the Sangrur seat in alliance with the BJP, it had got 23.83% of the votes. Bhagwant Mann had won the seat then.
Senior Akali Dal leader Balwinder Singh Bhunder defended the party’s performance, saying it had not fielded “own candidate”, but “supported Panthic organisations’ candidate Kamaldeep Kaur Rajoana as she wanted to fight on the Akali Dal’s symbol”. “If people didn’t like our agenda to get Bandi Singhs (political prisoners) released, we accept their fatwa.”
The Akali Dal had tried to rally the Panthic vote behind families of political prisoners, finally deciding on the name of Beant Singh murder accused Balwant Singh Rajoana’s sister, but it had not succeeded in convincing the others. The vote the Akali Dal was eyeing clearly went to Simranjit Singh Mann, with its campaign directed at Mann rejected by people.
Bhunder said they were not happy with the results, but wanted to congratulate Mann. On the demand that the Akali leadership resign, he said: “We have seen many ups and downs… this keeps happening in parties… Please suggest an alternative too (to the leadership). It is not easy to break a party. We have no issues with Pradhan Saab (Sukhbir Badal).”
Punjab BJP chief Ashwani Sharma called upon AAP to “self-introspect”, while adding: “People of Sangrur chose a candidate who they think can take the AAP government head-on. We congratulate Simranjit Singh Mann Saab. We hope he will work for the peace and harmony of Punjab.”
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