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Sukhbir Singh Badal fights a bruising battle, with hands tied by his rebel MP

With heavyweight AAP and Cong MPs in fray and Sher Singh Gubhaya out to trip him, Dy CM is cornered

Written by Adil Akhzer | Jalalabad |
January 29, 2017 3:23:11 am
Sukhbir Singh Badal, Punjab Deputy CM, Punjab election, Punjab polls, Punjab assembly election, Punjab election 2017, Punjab SAD, indian express news Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir singh Badal. (File photo)

It’s not going to be a cakewalk for Shiromani Akali Dal president and Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal who won this seat in 2012 elections by over 50,000 votes. Badal too appears to have sensed this, going by the timed release of the sleaze tape against dissident SAD MP Sher Singh Gubhaya, to whom thousands of Rai Sikh voters here owe community allegiance.

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Pitted against Badal are two MPs, both heavyweights  AAP’s star campaigner and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann and Congress MP from Ludhiana Ravneet Singh Bittu, who is the grandson of slain former Punjab CM Beant Singh. But it is Ghubaya, the MP who turned against the Badals after they denied his son a ticket, who is worrying Badal. Ghubaya’s son recently joined Congress and has been fielded from nearby Fazilka.

While Badal and his supporters are contesting this election on the developmental plank, his opponents are levelling allegations of corruption in the SAD-BJP government and talking about drug menace, especially in the rural parts of the constituency where opponents of Sukhbir Badal believe development never reached their areas. “Till few years ago, we had no college or hospital here. Girls of this town had to wake up early and catch a train to reach Fazilka collage on time. But, now everyone can study here only.

We also got a hospital as well,’’ says Gurnishan Singh, a local who owns a sawing machine in the heart of town. “Five years ago, nobody knew where Jalalabad was in Punjab. After Sukhbir won from here, everyone is aware about this place now. Apart from development, Badal ji gave our area name as well as fame.’’

Singh, however, concedes that compared to the previous election, Akali leaders have to put extra efforts this time. “They (Akali’s) can’t take this election easy as AAP and Congress have fielded strong candidates. AAP has managed to garner support in the constituency,’’ he says. But even as Singh praises the deputy CM, two of his customers interrupt him. “We don’t want this party to be in power again.

We lost hope from this government. Recently, I had applied in police recruitment. But jobs were given to those who had good relations with SAD leaders. There was no place for merit or deserving candidates,” says 23-year-old Raj Kumar, a arts students who works as an electrician. “My vote this time will go to AAP.”

His friend Vikram Singh says, “Last time, we voted for Badal. This time we won’t, because nothing changed for us.” Jalalabad Assembly constituency has a total of 1,92,927 voters, the majority belonging to Rai Sikh and Kamboj communities. In the last election, the Scheduled Caste Rai Sikhs had voted en masse for Badal. However, this time, Rai Sikhs are upset over the sidelining of Ghubaya by Badal soon after he won a landslide victory from Jalalabad.

On the edge of national highway 10 kilometres away from this town lies picturesque village of Ghubaya, where majority of people are farmers. Sitting at the entrance of the village, a group of young and old villagers are discussing polls. Last time, 90 per cent of voters had voted for Badal. “After voting for Badal, nothing changed for us. We didn’t get a park or a small sports stadium. For us, the condition remained the same as it was a decade ago,’’ says Harmeet Chand while pointing towards the bad condition of road leading towards the village interiors. “Even our educated youths are sitting idle and are without jobs that were promised by Akalis in last elections.’’

Many Villagers agree that role of Sher Singh Ghubaya will be a deciding factor as he has a good clout not only in the village but in the entire block and also among the Rai Sikhs. Chairman of Rai Sikh Welfare Board, Gurdev Singh, who was only weeks ago appointed to this post by the Punjab government, does not agree that his community will leave Badal.

“We keep visiting the border areas and have never seen anyone asking us where is Sher Singh Ghubaya. I think only one per cent of Rai Sikh community people are with him. In this election, all the communities will support Sukhbir ji only as all the areas have witnessed tremendous development,’’ he says.

Though all three candidates are outsiders for this constituency, the villagers see this as an incentive. “High-profile and strong candidates make elections interesting. And for us, it is good and our constituency becomes a important seat,’’ says a villager. In the last election, there was no AAP. But this time, it’s evident that it has made inroads among youth in this constituency.

“AAP is a new party in the region and we see them as honest. We have given all parties a chance and seen their work. This time, we will try AAP,” says 24-year-old Mantej Singh in Ghubaya village. “Mann is famous and his supporters are everywhere, especially in rural pockets.”

The entry of a strong candidate like Congress’s Bittu has made the elections truly triangular. The Ludhiana MP is relying on the support of former Congress legislator Hans Raj Joshan, who contested 2012 elections as Independent and secured 30,000 votes. Local Congress leaders too have extended support to Bittu. “… I am not as an outsider (in Jalalabad), but a clean politician whom people want there to bring change,” Bittu recently told The Indian Express.

Just a few kilometres away from the town, residents of Balluana village allege that despite being close to the town, they haven’t seen any development but only corruption. “The condition of roads is the witness to the development of village. Maybe deputy chief minister must have been giving funds for our area, but it never reached us,” says a villager.

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