The prestige of at least seven heads of regional parties and state units of national outfits are at stake in Punjab as they will slug it out in the high-stakes electoral battle. Prominent among those are Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, Congress state president Sunil Jakhar and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) counterpart, Bhagwant Mann.
Badal is leading the electoral contest from the front as he jumped into the fray by contesting from Ferozepur parliamentary constituency, considered a stronghold of the Akalis.
The SAD chief’s gambit of taking the plunge in the parliamentary elections after a gap of 15 years is expected to boost party’s rank and file, political pundits opined. Badal had contested the Lok Sabha polls from Faridkot thrice — in 1998, 1999 and 2004.
The SAD, which claims to be the “only custodian” of Sikh issues, had been facing tough times over the sacrilege of religious scriptures and pardon granted to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a blasphemy case. The rebellion by senior leaders like Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, Rattan Singh Ajnala and Sewa Singh Sekhwan further added to its woes.
Badal is facing sitting Congress MP Sher Singh Ghubaya, who had won Ferozepur seat twice on a SAD ticket, AAP’s Harjinder Singh and Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA)’s Hans Raj Golden.
In Gurdaspur, the Congress has reposed faith in Jakhar, who had won the seat in the 2017 by-poll by a margin of over 1.90 lakh votes. The by-election was necessitated following the death of actor and then MP Vinod Khanna.
It may be tough to do an encore as Jakhar is facing Bollywood actor Sunny Deol, who joined the BJP on Monday. Deol, who is a popular figure in Punjab, could pose a formidable challenge to Jakhar.
“His (Jakhar) security (deposit) will be forfeited this time,” Badal claimed on Friday.
Mann, meanwhile, is seeking re-election from Sangrur, but winning from the seat may not be easy due to infighting within the party. The stand-up comedian-turned-politician is pitted against Congress nominee Kewal Dhillon, SAD’s Parminder Dhindsa, PDA’s Jassi Jasraj and Rajdev Singh Khalsa of the SAD (Taksali).
Simranjit Singh Mann, president of the SAD (Amritsar), is also trying his luck from Sangrur.
Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who floated the Punjabi Ekta Party after he was ousted as the leader of Opposition in the assembly last year, is contesting from Bathinda. He is facing sitting SAD MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Congress candidate Amrinder Singh Raja Warring and AAP’s Baljinder Kaur.
Simarjeet Singh Bains, who heads the Lok Insaaf Party, is contesting from Ludhiana. Congress, SAD and the AAP have fielded Ravneet Bittu, Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal and Tejpal Singh, respectively.
Sitting Patiala MP Dharamvira Gandhi, who had parted ways with the AAP, has floated the Nawan Punjab Party, which is part of the PDA. Gandhi is contesting against former Congress MP Preneet Kaur, SAD nominee Surjit Singh Rakhra and AAP’s Neena Mittal.
Polling in Punjab for the 13 Lok Sabha seats will take place in the last phase on May 19.