Jalalabad: Two MPs versus Punjab’s most powerful man

Jalalabad (Punjab), Feb 1 (IANS) It is tucked away in a far corner of west Punjab — barely a dozen kilometres from the Pakistan border — and is certainly nowhere near as developed and prosperous as other parts of the state. But the assembly elections this time have made this a high-profile constituency.

This is because the contest is between Sukhbir Singh Badal, the state’s Deputy Chief Minister and President of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), and two incumbent Lok Sabha members — Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Ludhiana MP Ravneet Singh Bittu of the Congress.

Bittu is a grandson of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh who was assassinated in a car bombing at the Punjab secretariat in Chandigarh in 1995.

In the last five years, Jalalabad, as Sukhbir Badal’s constituency, has received special attention and funding for projects worth hundreds of crores. But that alone is not likely to be enough to ensure smooth sailing for Punjab’s most powerful man.

The contest this time could be tougher for the Akali Dal supremo given the fact that Punjab’s Malwa belt (south of the Sutlej river) has shown a definite undercurrent in favour of the AAP and also because comedian/actor-turned-politician Bhagwant Mann is quite popular.

Mann manages to attract crowds in villages and small towns across the constituency as he moves around and addresses people. While much of it is due to his celebrity status in Punjab, a lot of people, especially youth, come to hear his stand-up political acts. His one-liners on the Badal family (headed by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal), Sukhbir, the Congress and the Akali Dal, get good response from those attending his meetings.

While the AAP was the first to take on Sukhbir Badal by fielding Mann, considered a tougher candidate than any other AAP leader, the Congress made things more interesting by fielding Bittu, seen as a “youth leader”.

Sukhbir Badal, on the face of it, is showing no signs of being perturbed by the challenge from Mann and Bittu.

“I welcome them here. They are spending time for the fun of it. They are even going to lose their security deposits,” a confident Sukhbir Badal asserted.

But Mann is not one to walk away without a fight. “We will talk on March 11 (the day the votes will be counted). The Badal family has built an empire in Punjab at the cost of the people. The people will sweep them away with a jhadoo (broom — the AAP symbol) this election,” Mann said.

“The day Parkash Singh Badal came and said in Sangrur (during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections) that Mann will lose, everyone told me that I will win. I won,” Mann, who was elected by the highest margin of 211,721 votes among all the winning candidates in Punjab’s 13 parliamentary seats.

The Jalalabad seat had polled nearly 87 per cent of the 172,000 votes in the constituency in the 2012 assembly polls, with Sukhbir Badal wining by over 50,000 votes.

The runner-up was Congress rebel candidate Hans Raj Josan, who had been a legislator from here earlier. The official Congress candidate, Malkit Singh, had finished a poor third.

No wonder then that a lot is at stake in the February 4 assembly election — not only for the candidates but also for the three major parties in the fray.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in <mailto:jaideep.s@ians.in>)