Punjab Elections: Decisive moments are here

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Who shall be the next Punjab CM? L-R: Charanjit Singh Channi, Sukhbir Singh Badal, Captain Amarinder Singh (above), Balbir Singh Rajewal and Bhagwant Singh Mann

By Prabhjot Paul Singh | Opinion |

The decisive moments are almost here. By afternoon of March 10, all will be aware of leaders and political parties that are going to steer this cash-strapped mafia-ridden State to its pristine glory in the next five years.

People or electors have already done their job. They were at 24,400 polling stations on February 20 and made choices of their respective representatives from amongst 1304 candidates. Now the ball is in the court of the Election Commission and its nominated officials who will open the electronic voting machines to decide who all 117 candidates have made it to the next Punjab Legislative Assembly.

No two elections are the same. Each battle of the ballot has its own identity, its own uniqueness. Punjab, for example, witnessed multi-corner contests in most of the constituencies as there were 12 political parties and three alliances in the run for political supremacy.

Besides the incumbent Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi of Congress, his immediate past predecessors, Capt Amarinder Singh and Parkash Singh Badal, too, were in the running. Incidentally, Parkash Singh Badal, at 94, is the oldest contestant while Balbir Singh Rajewal of Samyukat Samaj Morcha, a new entrant to Punjab political scene, has been the oldest new face in the electoral battle.

No election is without its share of controversies, accusations, and counter accusations. Though electioneering mostly remained virtual because of the Omicron pandemic, still political bigwigs, including Prime Minister Narinder Modi and his senior Cabinet colleagues, including Amit Shah, Nitin Gadkari, and others campaigned in Punjab. It is for the first time that the national ruling party, BJP, put up 65 candidates. Never it contested even 30 seats on its own.

This time it had two new alliance partners – Punjab Lok Congress, a breakaway group of Congress led by displaced Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, and also a breakaway group of Shiromani Akali Dal, Sanyukt Shiromani Akali Dal, led by Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa.

The ruling Congress, though fragmented, went ahead with a Dalit, Charanjit Singh Channi, as its Chief Ministerial candidate. Charanjit Singh Channi, incidentally, had the distinction of becoming first Dalit Chief Minister of this border State. Another contender for Chief Ministerial post was the Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Navjot Singh Sidhu.

Incidentally, Navjot was mostly confined to his constituency Amritsar East by Bikram

Singh Majithia, a young Turk of Shiromani Akali Dal and brother-in-law of the party President, Sukhbir Singh Badal. Bikram left his own stronghold seat, Majithia, for his wife, Gunieve Kaur. Bikram had tough times during the campaign period as he was tied down by police cases and related litigations. When the votes are counted, he may not be there as his petitions for release from jail were not successful.

This election witnessed a new and strong chapter of dynastic politics.

Besides five-time Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son, Sukhbir Singh Badal, a strong aspirant for Chief Minister ship, the family had the strongest representation in the electoral contest. Besides Majithias, the family was represented by Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, who contested from his stronghold Patti. Adesh Partap Singh Kairon is a grandson of acknowledged builder of modern Punjab, Partap Singh Kairon.

Jathedar Tota Singh, a Taksali Akali leader, and his son, Barjinder Singh alias Makhan Brar, were another father-son team in the race. They were joined by Prem Singh Chandumajra and his son Harinderpal Singh Chandumajra, also of Akali Dal.

From other parties, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann and son Eman Singh Mann are also seeking their maiden entry to Punjab Vidhan Sabha.

Rana Gurjit Singh of Congress and his son, Rana Inder Partap Singh, an Independent, too, are testing waters for a place in the State Legislature.

Then there are Bajwa brothers. Partap Singh Bajwa is Congress candidate from Qadian while his younger brother, Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa, represents BJP in adjoining Batala constituency.

Some of senior leaders, mostly of Congress, including Sunil Kumar Jakhar, Lal Singh and Brahm Mohindra, decided to pave way for their wards rather than contesting themselves. Even the Sanyukat Shiromani Akali Dal chief, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, decided not to contest. His son, Parminder Singh Dhindsa, has a tough opponent in the first woman Chief Minister of the State, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, in LehraGaga constituency.

Another prominent candidate and the first woman President of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Bibi Jagir Kaur, faces a tough contest from Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who after representing AAP in the last Vidhan Sabha, is back in Congress.

The fate and political future of all these political stalwarts and their wards will be known by noon of March 10.

The future of several new entrants, especially those from civil services and the world of music and entertainment, will also be revealed by the March 10 results. Many senior police functionaries, including Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh, who resigned from Indian Police Service (IPS) as an Inspector-General of Police, to join AAP, Iqbal Singh Lalpura who joined BJP after retiring as an Inspector-General, Harbhajan Singh Sandhu who quit as Assistant Inspector-General of Police to oppose Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi in Chamkaur Sahib besides few others are trying their luck in politics.

Similarly, some ex-civil servants, including Dr Jagmohan Singh Raju (BJP-Amritsar East), Sucha Ram Ladhar (BJP- Gill), Kuldip Singh Vaid (Gill-Congress) and BS Dhaliwal (BJP-Phagwara) will also have their political future known on March 10.

Singer Sidhu Moosewala of Congress is another candidate whose result is keenly awaited.

Then there are two Olympians in a face-to-face contest. Pargat Singh seeking his third term from Jalandhar Cantonment has locked horns with Olympian Surinder Singh Sodhi and ex-Tehsildar Jagbir Singh Brar in a triangular contest.

Also looking for his maiden entry to Punjab Vidhan Sabha is Olympian Sajjan Singh Cheema from Sultanpur Lodhi on AAP ticket.

While Congress is hopeful of its second successive term, it faces a tough challenge from Aam Aadmi Party that has projected comedian and sitting MP, Bhagwant Mann, as its Chief Ministerial candidate. AAP was the main Opposition party in the outgoing Vidhan Sabha.

Equally strong challenge is posed by the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bahujan Samaj Party (SAD-BSP) alliance. Then there is a coalition of two parties of farmers – Samyukat Samaj Morcha and Samyukat Kisan Morcha. This alliance is led by veteran Kisan leader Balbir Singh Rajewal.

Prabhjot Singh is a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience 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. For more in-depth analysis please visit probingeye.com  or follow him on Twitter.com/probingeye

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