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HomeEnglish NewsLiberal Opinion: Battle of Ballot-1. 2.14 crore Punjab voters say," thank you...

Liberal Opinion: Battle of Ballot-1. 2.14 crore Punjab voters say,” thank you Sukhbir, coalitions, we will do it without you”.

Punjab loves to play a pioneer. It devises its own ways to lead the nation. However, this time it fumbled and despite best of efforts could not forge an alliance, a situation unprecedented in this border State since its organization on November 1, 1966.

For 13 Lok Sabha seats, the State that goes to polls in the seventh and last phase, will have candidates from all four major political parties – Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal, Bhartiya Janata Party, and Aam Aadmi Party – besides Bahujan Samaj Party and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar).This is an unprecedented situation as all political alliances that worked in some parts of the country, failed to take off in Punjab.

These failed political tie-ups, including the I.N.D.I. A, and NDA, have given 2.14 crore Punjab voters a distinct advantage of choosing their 13 Lok Sabha representatives independently without any pressure or obligation of any other supportive political party.

Speculations were galore before the election process started unfolding as both Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) inched closer but fell short of a last-minute tie-up, thanks to three-time Congress MP and grandson of slain Chief Minister Beant Singh, crossing over to the Saffron party for one of the sensational defections witnessed in recent times.

It took away the sheen and glamour of what former Punjab Chief Minister, Capt. Amarinder Singh, did after being unceremoniously ousted from the top post. Shortly afterwards, the scion of erstwhile Patiala state along with his group of loyalists, joined the BJP. After Maharaja of Patiala left Congress, it opened doors for several Congressmen, including his wife and four-time MP, Preneet Kaur, former legislators and ministers, including Kewal Dhillon, Rana Gurmit Sodhi and Fateh Bajwa, to switch loyalties from Congress to BJP. It was not the end of road.

Congress suffered yet another reverse when its ex-Punjab Pradesh Chief Sunil Jakhar, too, left the party and become Modi Bhakat. Sunil, whose father, Balram Jakhar, had remained a Speaker of Lok Sabha and an ardent Congress loyalist.

As traditional Taksali Congress families were getting lured into the BJP fold, Ravneet Bittu, too, decided to move closer to the ruling party saying that “to get things done, one cannot sulk in the Opposition”. And Ravneet’s entry came when the talks for reviving the traditional and oldest political alliance between SAD and BJP were in the final stages. SAD was trying to stay on the right side of agitating farmers by advocating for their demand of MSP for all crops besides trying to secure release of Sikh prisoners with completed tenures in jails. Here Ravneet Bittu wanted the ruling BJP to weight pros and cons before taking a decision as he maintained his family had been a victim of separatist violence in Punjab.

That was the end of beginning a new phase of political adjustment between SAD and BJP.

Earlier, talks between SAD and BSP leadership for a possible alliance on the lines of one witnessed during the last assembly elections in 2022, however, had come to an end when the SAD leadership once again started emitting signals to BJP for reviving the political ambience.

With no alliance in view, all major parties decided to go on their own. Though AAP and Congress, as partners of I.N.D.I.A alliance have come to an understanding on some seats in Delhi. Haryana and elsewhere, their plans fell flat as Punjab Congress blatantly reused any adjustment with the ruling party of the State.

Instead, both AAP and Congress decided to contest all 13 seats each. BJP turned to turncoats while fielding its candidates for all 13 seats. It took on political deputation several leaders from Congress. They include Preneet Kaur, Ravneet Bittu, Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi and Mr Arvind Khanna besides taking away the lone AAP member of outgoing Lok Sabha Sushil Kumar Rinku. It had earlier inducted Manjit Singh Mianwind Manna, a former SAD MLA, and named him a candidate for Khadoor Sahib seat. After winning over Sushil Kumar Rinku from AAP, BJP did not take long to name him as its candidate for Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat.

BJP also had diplomat turned Taranjit Singh Sandhu in its fold for the prestigious Amritsar Lok Sabha seat to break the jinx that its Ministerial candidates get defeated in the holy city. Examples of Arun Jaitely and Hardeep Puri are quoted to prove the point. Now onus is on Taranjit Singh Sandhu, grandson of Akali stalwart Teja Singh Samundari and son of Bishen Singh Samundari, founder Vice-Chancellor of Sri Guru Nanak Dev University.

Though there are not many big new names in the initial list of 598 candidates who filed their nominations for 13 Lok Sabha seats – 46 on an average for each State – there are certain, obvious, and big omissions from the list.

Missing from the list are the State chiefs – former MP Sunil Jakhar (BJP) and Budh Ram (AAP) – and the party chief – Sukhbir Singh Badal (SAD). It is for the first time that Badal family that dominated Punjab politics for over 40 years will be represented in the 2024 battle of the ballot through three-time sitting MP and wife of Sukhbir Badal, Mrs Harsimrat Badal. She would be trying her luck from the same Bathinda seat that she has represented for last three consecutive terms.

Opposing her the candidates who have once remained part and parcel of her party, Shiromani Akali Dal. Jeet Mohinder Sidhu (Congress, remained SAD MLA from Talwandi Sabo), Gurmeet Singh Khudian (Punjab Cabinet Minister and son of late Jagdev Singh Khudian, SAD leader and ex-MP), and Parampal Kaur Sidhu (she took VRS from Indian Administrative Service, and is daughter-in-law of senior Akali leader Sikander Singh Maluka).

Also missing from the contestants list are Jasbir Singh Dimpa (sitting MP from Khadoor Sahib), Sunny Deol (sitting MP from Gurdaspur), and Som Parkash (sitting MP and Union Minister from Hoshiarpur). Interestingly, Anita Som Parkash, wife of Som Parkash, has replaced him.

A couple of other hot contenders who could not make it include BJP leader and former Union Minister Vijay Sampla, and folk singer Mohammed Siddique.

And Punjab is all set to welcome and hear what leaders like PM Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP chief JP Nadda, Bollywood star Hema Malini and Pollywood star Preeti Sapru have to say in favour of the NDA. Top I.N.D.I.A and Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, M. Kharge, Akhilesh Yadav and others besides AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal, too, will be visiting Punjab as it goes to polls on June 1, in the seventh and last phase.

Punjab voters deserve the best and the rest.

(Prabhjot Singh is a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience of 14 years with Reuters News and 30 years with The Tribune Group, covering a wide spectrum of subjects and stories. He has covered Punjab and Sikh affairs for more than three decades besides covering seven Olympics and several major sporting events and hosting TV shows.)


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