Congress should consider heavyweight Sikh face to challenge Akali Dal in Bathinda
Chandigarh, April 18: Congress is fast losing the game of perception in Bathinda, the most prestigious Lok Sabha seat in Punjab that has been won twice successively by Akali Dal’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the food processing minister in the Narendra Modi government.
The main reason for the mess is public statements of certain Congress leaders that they are not interested in contesting the Lok Sabha election. This has created the perception that the leaders who are considered to be forceful are averse to confronting Harsimrat. She has not been officially declared the candidate so far but going by the indications available and the way she has been campaigning in the constituency for the last several days, her candidature is not ruled out. Moreover, she herself has maintained that she would not like to give the impression of running away from Bathinda by opting for Ferozepur.
Ferozepur is the other seat about which the Akali Dal has maintained the suspense.
The speculation is about party president Sukhbir Singh Badal trying his luck from Ferozepur. The thinking in one section of the party has been that the victory of both Sukhbir and Harsimrat would go a long way in reviving the party pushed to the wall by the narrative relating to sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib. This issue has returned to the centre-stage due to party playing the wrong card by complaining against IGP Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh that led to his transfer from the SIT probing the Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura police firing relating to the sacrilege issue. The Panthic organisations have already started protests in the state demanding cancellation of his transfer as he was known to be the main face in this sensitive investigation.
Under the given situation, the Congress can’t afford to lose Bathinda. Apart from revival of Akali Dal, yet another dimension is attitude of bureaucracy. It is pertinent to mention that bureaucracy has been soft to the Akalis even after the change in regime and the Congress MLAs have been protesting against this situation. The revival of Akali Dal from Bathinda may impact governance in the context of behaviour of bureaucracy.
The only issue on which the Akali Dal continues to face problem is that of sacrilege and hence the Congress should consider putting up a strong face capable of reinforcing this sentiment while at the same time, not giving the impression that the party is against Dera Sacha Sauda whose followers have been arrested in these cases. The sacrilege narrative is rather rooted in the Sukhbir’s politics of roping in covert Dera support in 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls, mainly in Bathinda. This Dera has strong support base in Bathinda Lok Sabha constituency that now also includes Mansa district.
The two constituencies where the impact of sacrilege is very strong are Faridkot and Bathinda. People have already started showing black flags to the Akali dal candidate in Faridkot.
It is in this context that the Congress should finalise its choice of the candidate as this constituency is going to witness the toughest fight. However, that would depend upon the Congress. A weak candidate would only mean a walk over for the Akali Dal.
The stakes are too high for both the main players in Punjab. Other players in the Bathinda arena can at best be spoilers.