Badal cousins fight for honour in Gidderbaha
Manpreet Badal, running for the fifth consecutive time from here (but this time as a candidate of his People`s Party of Punjab), is facing a mighty challenge from the Akalis who have fielded Sant Singh Brar, a former Congressman, to take on the rebel. Brar switched Shiromani Akali Dal some time ago.
For both Sukhbir Badal and Manpreet, it`s a fight for honour. Also posing a challenge to Manpreet in a triangular contest is Congress greenhorn Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, a businessman who was given a ticket this time by none other than Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi himself.
Warring, a local youth, has risen through Youth Congress ranks but had lost Youth Congress president`s first-ever election to now MP Ravneet Singh Bittu.
The Manpreet factor has made the Gidderbaha contest one of the most keenly watched, As a rural constituency, it has always been represented in the past by a member of the Badal family – four times in a row by Manpreet, the outgoing MLA and earlier by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal himself.
Only once in Punjab`s political history did this family seat go to Congress` Harcharan Singh Brar. Manpreet had won the seat last time with a margin of 18,828 votes against his nearest Congress rival.
Despite being a crucial segment where the honour of Badal cousins is at stake, the poll frenzy if missing here, with the main candidates restricting themselves to addressing political rallies in villages and street corner meetings in Gidderbaha town.
Manpreet is not going all out to malign his uncle and chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. However, for Akali workers in the area, it is a tough call to take clear sides this time.
While Akalis, in spite of having fielded a former Congressman, are banking on their traditional vote bank and playing the development card, Manpreet is seeking votes in the name of the Badal family, saying he was ousted for "speaking the truth".
Congress nominee Raja Warring, on the other hand, is lashing out at both, saying nothing has been done for the people of the area and wants a chance to represent them.
Manpreet is playing up his sacrifice-of-power card, seeking voters` support on the ground that he had quit as Finance Minister for "the sake of his ideals". He says he could no longer see the state`s treasury being "plundered". "I have suffered because of speaking out the truth as I did not want to usher Punjab into further indebtedness. It is for you that I gave up my Finance Minister`s chair and I seek your support in building a new Punjab," he tells voters.
He adds, "We have to change the face of Punjab and it is for the future of today`s children – our next generation, that I am seeking your support" while also making a veiled attack on the Akali government for "not curbing corruption, nepotism and favouritism".
Manpreet says, "I will not make lofty promises but will ensure that the state`s finances are good and the state is made free from various ills like corruption, nepotism and fovouritism."
Asked why he is contesting from two seats Gidderbaha and Maur, Manpreet told PTI that "it is part of an election strategy and not for anything else. I did not want to be cornered by my opponents who could conspire to ensure my defeat."
Warring, in his emotional appeal to voters, is telling them that nothing has changed in the area after decades of Akalis` hold. He is asking them to give him one chance.
"This is a fight for your rights, a fight for democracy," he is heard telling the voters. To counter the Akali Dal claim that they have nurtured the segment for years, Warring says "there is no cancer hospital, there are no good schools. What development are the Akalis talking about?".
"Give me one chance and I promise I will give you the next 20 years of my life. I will ask Rahul Gandhi to get a big factory and a cancer hospital to the area," he adds.
Warring also remembers to take on Manpreet Badal over his desertion of Akalis. "If he (Manpreet) could not remain loyal to his uncle, how can he be loyal to you? He is running away from here as he is contesting the Maur seat too," Warring says.
Sant Singh Brar, who left Congress sometime ago after failing to get party ticket, is banking on traditional Akali support in the area and on development plank. Also campaigning for Brar are the chief minister and the deputy chief minister, besides Bathinda MP Harsimrat Badal who are appealing to voters not to let them down. Brar had contested as an independent last time and polled 28,167 votes.
While Manpreet`s father Gurdas Badal and wife Veenu are campaigning for him, there are a host of NRIs from the US, Canada and Europe, who are working hard for Manpreet`s victory. Also campaigning for Warring is Gur Ek Mann, the son of popular Punjabi singer Gurdas Mann who hails from Gidderbaha. The elder Mann will also be campaigning for him. Rahul Gandhi and PCC chief Amarinder Singh are also expected to chip in.
The Gidderbaha seat has an electorate of 1.4 lakh, with urban votes only about 30,000.
In Maur, Manpreet Badal, pitted against his kin and outgoing Irrigation Minister Janmeja Singh Sekhon, the Akali Dal candidate, appears to be drawing a good response from the rural electorate. Sekhon has been shifted from Ferozepur to Maur and is considered an "outsider".
The Congress candidate Mangat Rai Bansal, who is the outgoing MLA from Budhlada, is posing a challenge to Manpreet, but also carries the "outsider" tag with him, even though Manpreet himself is not from the area. The Maur seat is a newly-carved-out seat from the earlier Joga seat and also a rural dominated seat.