A Congress band on his wrist, Darshan Singh Dhillon has no qualms in saying he is disillusioned with every party and candidate in fray and wants to press NOTA (None of the above) button on Electronic Voting Machine this election. But, he adds, “Pressing NOTA would be a futile exercise in the end as they would declare the candidate with second best votes as the winner even if NOTA gets maximum votes”.
“There is need to change the procedure. If NOTA wins, there should be no other winner from the constituency. The polls should be held afresh with new candidates,” says Dhillon, who is a member of panchayat in Joga Nand village in high profile Bathinda parliamentary constituency where Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal is seeking re-election, locked in a contest with Amrinder Singh Raja Warring of Congress, Sukhpal Singh Khaira of Punjab Ekta Party (PEP), who is contesting in alliance with Punjab Democratic Alliance, and Baljinder Kaur of Aam Aadmi Party.
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While Harsimrat is sitting Member of Parliament, the other main contenders listed here are sitting legislators in Punjab.
Sitting at a common village point with a group of villagers, Dhillon tells that he is “a Congress supporter as is evident by the Congress band I wear, which was given by the party activists campaigning for Warring.”
Dhillon’s sentiments are shared by many in the constituency — a citadel of Badals.
The electors have something to say about each candidate – “anger” against Badals, “outsiders” Warring and Khaira, and Baljinder Kaur, a candidate belonging to a party which “insulted” people’s mandate by not remaining united.
In 2017 Assembly election, Aam Aadmi Party had upset the Akali applecart in a big way. Out of nine Assembly segments in Bathinda, Akalis could win only on two — one of them, Lambi, bagged by Akali patriarch Parkaksh Singh Badal. Congress also won two seats while remaining five were bagged by the AAP. One of them was Talwandi Sabo. The sitting MLA from there, Baljinder Kaur, is now AAP candidate from Bathinda for May 19 Lok Sabha elections.
“Lokaan di support khooh vich pa diti te aapna khlara khol dita. Je sahi rehnde taan teran diyan teran seatan ena nu aunian si (They dumped the people’s support to them into a well and washed their dirty linen in public by not remaining united. Had they remained united, they would have won on all the 13 seats),” says Kulwant Singh, a resident of Khialiwala, a village near Joga Nand.
“AAP was an alternative as compared to traditional parties, but the way they had a split, it has lost faith of people. Asin NOTA daban baare soch rahe haan, par ehna aapne haare hoye vi jitte bana laine (We are thinking to press NOTA, but they would declare the candidate who loses to NOTA as winner,” says Hardam Singh, another resident of Khiala.
Sitting among them, Jagroop Singh has a long list of “unkept promises”. One after the other in quick succession, he says, “naukri nahi mili saare Punjab nu pata hai. Karja kurki khatam, fasal di poori rakam da vi bahuta kuchh nahi hoya…(The whole Punjab knows that there are no jobs. Nothing much has been done on promises made to debt ridden farmers)”.
Playing cards at Jandan Wala village where Baljinder Kaur is scheduled to visit, a resident while stressing that he be not identified in the story, says, “Congress and Akali Dal have been hand in glove for last 70 years. People had hopes from Aam Aadmi Party, but it stands divided”.
“Bina paise laye panj seataan mil gayiyan AAP nu 2017 vich. Par eh kathe nahi reh sakke,” said a Jandan Wala shopkeeper Surjit Singh. He fumes at Chief Minister Capt Amarinder and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal. “Sukhbir and Amarinder are hand in glove with each other…Hove Punjab da mukh mantri, te SIT da afsar badal ditta jaave (Despite Amarinder being CM of Punjab, the SIT officer is shifted),” said Surjit, referring to transfer of IG Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh from the SIT probing incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib. Surjit is not ready to buy that it was on the directions of Election Commission that Kunwar was transferred. He blames Amarinder.
Surjit, however, is all praise for Sukhpal Singh Khaira and adds that “Navjot Kaur Lambi addressed a gathering in the village in support of Khaira and not one villager left before she finished her speech.”
In Maur, Khaira while addressing a gathering in mandi, seeks support, attacking both SAD and Congress and pointing out that basic facilities relating to health, education, drinking water and other amenities remained a far cry in Bathinda. As people listen to him in rapt attention, his tirade includes mention of hefty pensions Akali and Congress leaders were getting after getting elected legislators numerous times. He mentions that Akali patriarch Parkash Singh Badal’s monthly pension was over Rs 5 lakh per month.
As he finishes his speech, a youth asks him why there was split in AAP? Khaira keeps it brief. “Baljinder Kaur invited Badals to her wedding. We have nothing to do with them now.”
In Nathana village, spreading wheat chaff on the road, Sukhbinder Kaur is upset with the Congress. “This government stopped our pension.” Another woman joins in the conversation. “We are thinking of pressingt NOTA.” She, however, adds, “Limtaan maaf nahi keetian. Je koyee party saadian limtaan maaf kar de taan aapan us nu vote paavange (Overdraft loans have not been waived. A party that waives it, will get our vote),” Standing nearby, Kulwant Singh tells her that code of conduct was in place and nothing could happen now.
In Bathinda, man in his car emerges out of The Bathinda Lake View Park, set up alongside the Bathinda thermal lake. The car has posters of NOTA pasted on it, in a clear manifestation of disenchantment of electors with candidates in fray.