Heads of two regional parties and the state unit chiefs of at least two other parties are pitched in a high stakes battle of prestige in Punjab. While it may look like just another four leaders contesting the Lok Sabha polls, due on May 19 in state, the fight, for each of them, has a different meaning and the result may have a different bearing on them.
The four are Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal, Punjab Congress president Sunil Kumar Jakhar, Aam Aadmi Party’s state president Bhagwant Singh Mann and Lok Insaf Party’s president Simarjit Singh Bains.
For Sukhbir, the election means a fight for revival of his party, which is at its lowest ebb of popularity, having secured its worst tally in the 2017 assembly polls following an anti-incumbency wave and facing public ire on the emotive issue of Bargari sacrilege (2015) and subsequent police firings in Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura.
Son of SAD patron and former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir, who is also the Leader of Opposition in Punjab Vidhan Sabha, is contesting from Ferozepur. He is pitched against Sher Singh Ghubaya, who twice won the seat as Akali Dal candidate but is now contesting on Congress ticket, AAP’s Harjinder Singh and Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA)’s Hans Raj Golden.
Sukhbir is contesting the parliamentary elections after a gap of 15 years. He had contested the Lok Sabha polls from Faridkot thrice — in 1998, 1999 and 2004.
Sukhbir, if the political observers are to be believed, is placed comfortably. His victory will boost party’s rank and file but a loss would be humiliating for Sukhbir, who is a chief minister aspirant.
Since the Lok Sabha elections are being held two years after Assembly election, in which SAD was placed at distant number three, his victory would mean Akalis can’t be written off so easily, as the ruling Congress would like it to. The election would also establish him as a formidable leader who could win even when party was facing worst times.
Jakhar, seeking reelection from Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency, is facing a formidable rival in BJP;s pick, Bollywood actor Sunny Deol. Jakhar had won the seat in the 2017 bypoll by a margin of over 1.90 lakh votes. The byelection was necessitated following the death of actor and then BJP MP Vinod Khanna.
It is a battle of prestige for Jakhar. A win against Deol will reinforce his position in the state party but a loss would put a question mark on the PPCC chief, who had changed his constituency from Ferozepur to Gurdaspur amid opposition by former state Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa.
Ever since Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh declared that Jakhar was an able and intelligent politician, and could be the CM one day, he is being watched keenly. If he loses, his detractors could start a campaign for his ouster as PPCC chief.
Meanwhile, the going is also not easy for Bhagwant Mann, who is seeking re-election from Sangrur, and is pitted against Congress nominee Kewal Dhillon, SAD’s Parminder Dhindsa, PDA’s Jassi Jasraj and Rajdev Singh Khalsa of the SAD (Taksali).
The Aam Aadmi Party had won four seats during 2014 Lok Sabha election but since then two of them rebelled and were suspended. One of them, Harinder Singh Khalsa, joined BJP and another, Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, floated his own Nawan Punjab Party.
Mann was also a CM aspirant ahead of 2017 Punjab Assembly election. But AAP could win only 20 seats. Since then it has been marred with factionalism with two MLAs recently defecting to Congress. If Mann loses, it would land a severe blow to the party, trying to gather its bits and pieces together.
Simarjit Singh Bains, who is contesting from Ludhiana is also locked in a triangular fight against Congress’s sitting MP Ravneet Singh Bittu and Akali candidate Maheshinder Singh Grewal. Bains is also a sitting MLA. An activist politician, this election could mean a referendum on his politics.
While Sukhbir and Mann are both campaigning for their parties, Jakhar is pinned down in Gurdaspur. He has not campaigned for anyone else ever since BJP named Deol as its candidate. Bains is also concentrating on his constituency.
Among others, Simranjit Singh Mann, president of the SAD (Amritsar), is trying his luck from Sangrur, while Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who floated the Punjabi Ekta Party after being ousted as the leader of Opposition, is contesting from Bathinda.
Simarjeet Singh Bains, who heads the Lok Insaaf Party, is contesting from Ludhiana. Gandhi is contesting against former Congress MP Preneet Kaur, SAD nominee Surjit Singh Rakhra and AAP’s Neena Mittal.