Ruling SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal is facing a keen contest in his pocket borough Jalalabad where AAP top gun and sitting MP Bhagwant Mann and Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu are locked in a triangular fight, making the constituency a witness to the biggest electoral battles in Punjab. The three key contestants from this seat are locked in a fierce contest as Bittu is the grandson of slain Punjab chief minister Beant Singh and Mann is arguably the party’s face in Punjab elections.
Sukhbir is a tough contestant and his record says it all. He won the last Assembly election from this seat with the highest record margin of over 53,000 votes.
The two main opposition parties – Congress and AAP – have taken the fight to an interesting level against Sukhbir, who is also Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab.
Jalalabad is small border town where one of the biggest electoral battles of Punjab is taking place.
Sukhbir is better known as the son of the five-time Chief Minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal. His challenger is comedian, musician and actor-turned-politician Bhagwant Mann. Bittu is the Ludhiana MP.
Mann showed people don’t just come to his rallies for a laugh, when he won the Parliamentary seat from Sangrur in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He is second only to AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal when it comes to crowd pulling.
Sukhbir’s campaign in this seat started on a bad note with some disgruntled elements throwing stones at his cavalcade.
The battle has become more interesting here as Akali MP Sher Singh Ghubaya’s son Davinder Singh has joined the Congress and entered the fray from neighboring seat Fazilka.
Rolling out his campaign, Sukhbir said, “I have spent Rs 400 crore in Jalalabad constituency on upgrading sewerage and water works. Another MLA wouldn’t have been able to spend more than Rs 4 crores. This constituency is special, that’s why its development is also special for me.”
During his campaigns, Sukhbir makes it sure to attack Mann in his speech.
“What good can he do for the masses? AAP has done no good even in Delhi. So, one cannot expect anything from them even in Punjab. Remember most of them are outsiders and have no knowledge about the issues of Punjab,” he tells the electorate.
The Rai Sikh community plays a key role in this constituency, with nearly 30 per cent of the 1.90 lakh voters belonging to this Scheduled Caste community.
The Kamboj community and some Other Backward Classes make up another big chunk of 50,000 voters.
Recently after a prolonged stand-off between SAD and Ghubaya, now a party MP from Ferozepur, ended with Ghubaya’s son Devinder Singh Ghubaya, joining Congress.
The Ghubaya’s belong to the Rai Sikh community and to offset their loss, Sukhbir has been reaching out to other Rai Sikh personalities in the constituency though his close aide SS Mintta.
Even as Mintta in the absence of Sukhbir, who has to campaign for his party candidates contesting from other seats, harps upon development works done during the Akali regime, there has been a strong under current against Sukhbir’s aide.
To underline the importance of Rai Sikh vote, locals point to Ghubaya’s two successive parliamentary wins, in 2009 and 2014, after he vacated the Jalalabad Assembly seat for Sukhbir in 2007.
The second time, he defeated Sunil Jakhar of Congress. Though Mann, who has been camping here for weeks, has been drawing huge crowds in his campaign.
Ashok Aneja, president of SAD’s Fazilka district unit, says, “Though Mann is able to attract people to listen to him, he will not be able to convert these into votes. We all are here to see the poll campaign of SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal as he has to tour the whole of Punjab and once again his victory margin will be the highest.”
Sukhbir promised interest-free loans of Rs 10 lakh for youth to start their own business if the SAD-BJP combine returns to power.
He said the loans would be provided to the youth after giving them skill training so that they can become successful entrepreneurs.
He also announced that the SAD-BJP alliance would launch a massive drive to provide pucca houses to all the houseless in the state.
He assured the people that special emphasis would be given to the border belt, especially Ferozepur district, under this drive.
Pulling off a surprise victory from Ludhiana in 2014 Lok Sabha polls after being sent in as a replacement for Manish Tewari, Bittu, 41, is on a whirlwind tour of his constituency to have a connect with its people.
Bittu is taking on the two most talked-about personalities in Punjab elections. “The people of Jalalabad are waiting to get rid of Sukhbir Badal. He has not only destroyed Jalalabad in ten years but entire Punjab as well. People of Jalalabad have already decided to throw him out this time,” he says.
“I am here not as an outsider but as a clean politician whom people want to bring the change. As far as Mann is concerned, he is a good orator and a popular comedian but that is not enough to run a government,” he tells a gathering at Bhmanwali village.
He also hits out at AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, saying he “can’t be trusted as he had earlier dumped Anna Hazare.”
“One popular face (Mann) is not what people’s votes will be based on,” he says adding, “these are not Lok Sabha elections that Mann can pull off easily based on his popularity. No doubt Mann is a crowd puller and excellent artist but not my main competitor”.
“Mann and Sukhbir have not worked on issues such as drug menace the way I have,” he says. “At one time Punjab produced the likes of Dara Singh and Milkha Singh, but now youths are getting into drug addiction due to flawed policies of Akalis,” he says.
He said the Guru Granth Sahib was desecrated and not a single person was arrested.
“Drugs and family businesses of Badals have been created by looting Punjab. It will now be a contest between a profit making business family who looted Punjab to make their own Sukhvillas vs grandson of a martyr who laid his life for Punjab,” he said.
Trashing the view of political opponents that he is a ‘parachute’ candidate, he said, “People know that Congress is the only option to get rid of Badals and they will choose me”.
Mann too being a star campaigner of AAP has to move out of his Assembly seat to canvass for his party candidates in other constituencies.
Here in his absence the fort is being handled by Mohinder Kurchey, Jaskirat Kaur, Rajinder Mann and several others of big team constituted by Mann for canvassing for him in Jalalabad.
“The claims of ushering an era of development in Jalalabad in last six years are hollow. Mere low-quality concrete structures were raised in the name of multi-purpose stadium, college and other buildings. There was large-scale corruption in this so-called development. The stadium doesn’t have sports coaches, college lacks the staff; thus defeating the purpose,” says Mann.
He says despite being the home minister of the state, Sukhbir failed to ensure law and order in his constituency.