Chandigarh : With only few hours left for the Lok Sabha election results, exit polls and ground reports suggest the Congress is likely to gain big from public anger against the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance due to the sacrilege incidents reported in the state during its tenure.
Most exit polls give the Congress 7-9 of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the state. While it expected to have an easy win in some constituencies, it will face a tough fight in Gurdaspur, Sangrur, Bathinda, Khadoor Sahib and Ferozpur.
Though the Shiromani Akali Dal left no stone unturned in raising the emotive issue of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the Congress also managed to raise the sensitive sacrilege incidents and the killing of two young men at Bargari in police firing in 2015.
Just days before the elections, Congress president Rahul Gandhi visited Bargari to address a rally, a day after AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra wooed voters in Bathinda by calling herself a “daughter -in-law of Punjab” in her maiden speech given in Punjabi.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Punjab witnessed a triangular contest between AAP, Congress and the SAD-BJP alliance. AAP and SAD had won four seats each, followed by Congress with three and BJP’s two seats. This time, the other parties are dealing with a lot of infighting and dissatisfaction among its senior leadership.
While senior SAD leaders launched a parallel outfit called SAD (Taksali), three of the four elected MPs of AAP also left the party after a tussle with the national leadership.
Punjab Congress president and sitting Gurdaspur MP Sunil Jakhar is facing a tough fight against Bollywood actor Sunny Deol and the legacy of his father and Bollywood icon Dharmendra. Jhakar is leaving no stone unturned to retain his seat, especially after he was called “the future Chief Minister of Punjab” by Captain Amarinder Singh recently.
Political observers say this is a prestige fight for Jakhar as losing the seat while being the party’s state president and incumbent MP who won with a record margin of over 1 lakh votes just a while back (in a bypoll after the death of actor and BJP MP Vinod Khanna) may prove disastrous for his political future.
Exit polls predict that AAP’s Punjab chief Bhagwant Mann will retain his Sangrur seat thanks to his direct connect with people.
“Other candidates came and addressed the poor voters from dais while munching almonds, I sat amongst them to hear their concern. This time too, I will be winning by a huge margin,” said Bhagwant Maan while speaking to HuffPost India on the eve of poll results day.
Interestingly, NRI diaspora this time remained elusive of the parliamentary elections as compared the the support it has extended to AAP in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Congress has fielded Punjab Congress Vice President and two times MLA Kewal Singh Dhillon while SAD’s candidate is Parminder Singh Dhindsa, son of Taksali leader and former Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa.
The senior Dhindsa had recently resigned from SAD and also gave up his Rajya Sabha membership as a mark of protest against the sacrilege incidents.
Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, who served as an MP from the area, did not visit his son during the campaign.
“I never wanted him to contest this time but he took the decision in the welfare of the people. He will win by a huge margin,” the senior Dhindsa told HuffPost India over the phone.
In Bathinda, Congress leader and former Youth Congress president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring has challenged Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal. The fight for the high-stakes constituency has turned into a battle between Congress’s 1984 stain versus SAD’s Bargari blot, with both parties going all out to exploit the emotive issues. A farmer’s widow is also in the fray in Bathinda, hoping to draw attention to the issue of agricultural distress in the state.
When AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said in her maiden rally at Bathinda that those who desecrated Sri Guru Granth Sahib were destroying the soul of Punjab, Harsimrat Kaur hit back, saying Priyanka has “rubbed salt on Sikh wounds by refusing to apologise for Operation Bluestar and the anti-Sikh riots”.
Until now, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, wife of SAD President Sukhbir Badal, and Preneet Kaur, wife of Captain Amarinder Singh, have never faced much of a fight in their respective constituencies, this time, they could be facing a serious litmus test. Preneet Kaur is facing a tougher contest against Patiala incumbent MP and AAP’s former leader Dharamvir Gandhi, but is likely to win with a substantive margin.
In Khadoor Sahib, Congress candidate Jasbir Singh is facing a challenge from Bibi Paramjit Kaur Khalra of Punjab Ekta Party (PEP) launched by AAP rebel leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira. Khalra has a wave of emotional support behind her, because of her 20-year-long fight to bring justice to thousands of missing Punjabi men after the kidnapping and murder of her husband Jaswant Singh Khalra.
Even though no party has sought votes on local issues, Congress’s rivals are hoping there will be some anti-incumbency against the state government.