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Khadoor Sahib by-poll: a precursor to Punjab assembly elections

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:28 IST

The poll

  • A by-poll will be held for the Khadoor Sahib Assembly seat in Punjab on 13 February
  • This is because sitting Cong MLA RS Sikki resigned to protest against the Badal govt

The importance

  • At a time when it\'s facing public angst across the state, the ruling SAD will be eager to win
  • The seat has been a long-time stronghold for the SAD, but was breached by the Congress in 2012

More in the story

  • Why is the Congress hesitant about this by-poll?
  • Why has AAP decided not to contest?

Under normal circumstances, the battle for Khadoor Sahib on 13 February would be just another assembly by-poll.

But it's not a routine by-election, not by any means. Assembly elections in the state are just a year away, and recent political developments have made sure all eyes are focussed on Khadoor Sahib.

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If nothing else, it will indicate where the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Opposition Congress stand, while the emerging third force in the state, the Aam Aadmi Party, sits out and waits for a bigger battle.

The by-poll has been necessitated due to the resignation of Congress MLA Ramanjit Singh Sikki, who wanted to protest against the Parkash Singh Badal-led government over the desecration of holy books.

An important centre of Sikhism

Khadoor Sahib is located in an area that was once the hotbed of the Punjab militancy. It's a village on the banks of the Beas river, located between the holy city of Amritsar and Tarn Taran.

In Sikh history, Khadoor Sahib has special significance. It was sanctified by eight of the 10 Sikh Gurus. In fact, the second Guru, Angad, lived there for 13 years, spreading the teachings of Guru Nanak. Guru Angad is believed to have introduced the Gurmukhi script at Khadoor Sahib. It is also the place where the first Mal Akhara was set up for wrestling, and campaigns against social evils and intoxicants were started by Guru Angad.

Politically, it only assumed significance when Sikki defeated heavyweight Ranjit Singh Brahmpura in one of the SAD's strongholds. This helped him become a prominent face of the Congress.

Significance for SAD

The by-poll has come at a time when the SAD is looking for a political boost. The party has been facing public ire in the last several months on issues like corruption, drugs, non-governance, police high-handedness etc. Its leaders have been heckled in villages and have been shown black flags in protest by the people.

However, the voters in the constituency are known for having strong Sikh Panthic sentiments. Even the Congress has not shied from fielding candidates with Panthic loyalties and backgrounds.

SAD is fielding Ravinder Singh Brahmpura, son of Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, the sitting Lok Sabha member from the Khadoor Sahib parliamentary seat.

Cong MLA Ramanjit Sikki resigned to protest against the SAD govt over the desecration of holy books

A victory in Khadoor Sahib will put across the message that the SAD's core voter base is still intact, and that Panthic politics still works. Since Sikki had quit on the issue of the desecration of holy books, a victory for the Akalis would mean people are satisfied by the government's response to the incidents.

Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal has started an aggressive poll campaign. He has reportedly asked his party workers to ensure that the SAD candidate wins with a convincing margin. This, the party feels, will dispel the notion of anti-incumbency in the state.

Congress conundrum

The Congress, on the other hand, is yet to announce a candidate, even though state party president Amarinder Singh has laid to rest the speculation that it would not contest the polls.

Sikki is said to be an Amarinder loyalist. There were reports that Sikki was not keen to re-contest the polls, but he has come out with a statement saying that he is ready for the battle if the party wants him to. "Since I am engaged in sewa at Darbar Sahib, I have not been able to meet or speak to the president Captain Amarinder Singh on the issue," Sikki said.

He said he had been performing the sewa every year during this month, and could not break his routine. "Whatever the state Congress president and the high command decide, I will abide by that decision," he said.

AAP has decided not to contest the by-poll. It wants to concentrate on the bigger battle next year

Meanwhile, Bhupinder Singh Bittu, said to be a loyalist of Amarinder's predecessor Pratap Singh Bajwa, is also reportedly keen on being the party candidate.

A win for the Congress would mean a shot in the arm for Amarinder after taking over the reins of the party again recently.

However, there are reports that his poll strategist, Prashant Kishore, is not too keen on the party paying too much attention to this inconsequential battle. Instead, he wants it to focus on the bigger battle ahead.

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AAP and wildcards

The Aam Aadmi Party has recently emerged as the third major political force in the state. But it has decided not to contest this election.

It, too, is concentrating on laying the groundwork for the Assembly elections, where it will put up candidates all across the state.

There are two AAP rebels, Bhai Baldeep and Sumail Singh Sidhu, who have decided to contest the by-poll as independents. Of these, Bhai Baldeep is being backed by Swaraj Abhiyan, the organisation led by former AAP leaders Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan.

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First published: 22 January 2016, 22:19 IST