Politics News

As Punjab Votes in Too-Close-to-Call Elections, 12 Ground Reports That Hint at Public Mood

Punjab will head to polling booths on February 20, Sunday after months of hectic political action that saw a change of Chief Minister and unprecedented breach of the Prime Minister’s security.

Political equations, too, changed dramatically in the state with Captain Amarinder Singh floating the new Punjab Lok Congress after walking out of the Congress over his acrimonious ouster from the top job. Amarinder Singh has now struck up an alliance with the BJP, which is fighting solo and trying to shed the shadow of the year-long farmers’ protest.

The Shiromani Akali Dal, which walked out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance last year over the now-repealed farm laws, has tied up with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. The party has made “political vendetta” its election card after FIR in drugs smuggling case against former minister Bikram Majithia, the brother-in-law of Sukhbir Badal.

The biggest changes perhaps have been in the Congress which has found itself losing some advantage to the Aam Aadmi Party. Navjot Singh Sidhu lost out on the CM nomination again, this time to Charanjit Singh Channi, who was believed to be the stop-gap arrangement when he replaced Amarinder Singh in September.

News18.com reporters have been tracking the political action and its impact on the ground in the run-up to Punjab elections 2022. Here’s a look at the best News18.com ground reports from Punjab:

Smiles and Roses Fail to Paper Over Cong Cracks

With little over two hours left for Punjab elections 2022 campaigning on Friday, the Congress put up a united front with Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi flanked by Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and senior leader Sunil Jakhar. Their smiles attempted to mask the disunity among them that was on display at the state Congress headquarters in Chandigarh.

The Congress campaign was scheduled to end with a joint rally by Charanjit Singh Channi and Navjot Singh Sidhu, but all they could manage was a brief joint appearance to release the party manifesto on the last day of campaigning. In yet another sign of factions widening, just hours before the Congress was to release its manifesto, Sidhu released his own vision document for Amritsar East. FULL STORY

David vs Goliath Battle in Bhadaur

“The entire national media is searching for me in villages here, asking who is the person against whom the Congress had to field its chief minister,” says 35-year-old Labh Singh of the Aam Aadmi Party. He is taking on CM Charanjit Singh Channi in Bhadaur.

Bhadaur seems like a classic David vs Goliath battle. Labh Singh is a mobile repair shop owner who lives in a two-room house in a village and is fighting his first election. The Congress in a surprise move has announced Channi as the candidate from here, his second seat in the February 20 election. The constituency is held by AAP and what makes the contest even more interesting is that the Congress has won this reserved seat only once in the last 50 years, in 2012. AAP won it in 2017. FULL STORY

Patiala Peg with a Twist

In the royal seat of Patiala and their home, either Captain Amarinder Singh or his wife have held sway as MLA for almost two decades now. But this time Captain does not have the Congress hand supporting him. This then is the riddle — will the people of Patiala vote for Captain or Congress? Or will the new flavour of the season in Punjab, AAP, seize the Patiala fortress too?

The Congress has played the ‘Hindu card’ in the form of erstwhile mayor Vishnu Sharma whom Navjot Singh Sidhu recently drafted back into the party from the Akali Dal. AAP candidate Ajit Pal Singh Kohli is also a former Patiala mayor who came from Akali Dal. It seems like a triangular contest is on the cards and things are not as simple this time as they were earlier. FULL STORY

For Kanshi Ram’s Brother, It’s Channi Over Mayawati

Kanshi Ram’s native village Khawaspur in Punjab’s Ropar district is where the BSP founder’s brother Harbans Singh lives in a Dalit colony. One can see several flags of allies Shiromani Akali Dal and BSP fluttering there, but Singh doesn’t plan to vote for the alliance forged by his late brother’s protégé Mayawati.

“I won’t vote for this alliance. It’s an unholy alliance. Mayawati has gone off to Uttar Pradesh. They don’t care about Punjab and both are corrupt now. We don’t need them,” he says. FULL STORY

Will be Business as Usual After Polls, Says Sand Mining Whistleblower

Social activist and president of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) unit in Chamkaur Sahib Gurnam Singh blew the whistle on illegal sand mining in CM Charanjit Singh Channi’s constituency. He knows Channi’s nephew Bhupendra Singh Honey could get bail soon in the case. Gurnam Singh says the illegal mining could not have been possible without the involvement of “big names”, but doesn’t expect justice anytime soon.

“They are big people. They won’t even let this become a poll issue. After elections are over, and no matter who comes to power, the illegal mining will resume. The problem will be for villages nearby as during floods, all the water flows into villages since there is no embankment to protect them anymore.” FULL STORY

Anguish in Faridkot

More than 60 days ago, Sukhraj Singh put up a tent alongside the main Faridkot highway and has since been sitting on a ‘dharna’ in the biting cold. He pitched the tent after losing what little hope he had left for justice from the outgoing Congress government for the death of his father in the Behbal Kalan police firing case of 2015. “Neither Captain Amarinder Singh nor Charanjit Singh Channi gave us justice. Captain was removed for inaction in sacrilege and police firing cases. Channi did nothing either,” says Singh. News18.com travelled to Faridkot to find the victims’ families carrying on with a deep sense of disappointment. FULL STORY

How Rahul Kept the Secret from Channi, Sidhu

The suspense was unbearable not just for political observers in Punjab, but also for Congress MLAs and candidates. Who would it be – Navjot Singh Sidhu or Charanjit Singh Channi? The backroom was buzzing for days as Rahul Gandhi wanted the moment of truth to be picture-perfect. And it was.

The trio first shared an elaborate meal at the Hyatt hotel over which Channi presented a summary of the work done so far by his government, while Sidhu joined in to point out what was needed to be done. Gandhi then met Sidhu separately for 30 minutes but made no mention of picking Channi as the CM candidate. Sources said both Channi and Sidhu went to the Harsheela Resort venue unaware of who the CM candidate would be, though the former is said to have been relatively more confident. FULL STORY

Battle of the Bajwas

In Qadian, a small municipal town of Gurdaspur district with a population of over 25,000, a three-storied white mansion is hard to miss. Not because of its domineering façade, but two flags, Congress and BJP – representing two vastly different political ideologies – flying atop that catches the eye. This is the house of a well-known political family: Rajya Sabha MP Partap Bajwa and his younger sibling Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa in the Majha region which seems to split right down the middle ahead of the Punjab polls.

Both the brothers were part of the Congress party till recently when the younger Bajwa defected after being denied a ticket from the family stronghold and Partap chosen instead. A peeved Fateh left the party and was given a ticket by the BJP from the adjoining Batala constituency. FULL STORY

BJP Banks on Trusty ‘Modi Model’

Sensing that the announcement of CM candidates could give the AAP and Congress some advantage, the BJP has pitched the governance model of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a counter during its campaign. Having parted ways with the Shiromani Akali Dal, the BJP is contesting the polls in alliance with ousted Congress chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s Punjab Lok Congress and SAD (Dhindsa).

Speaking exclusively to News18.com, Punjab BJP chief Ashwani Sharma, who is contesting from Pathankot, said: “PM Modi’s seven and a half years of rule at the Centre is our strong pitch. The people of Punjab are tired of the failed governance models provided by the earlier government. It is the time for Punjab to benefit from Modi’s effective governance.” FULL STORY

‘Mecca of Hockey’ Slams Penalty Stroke Against Netas

Two contrasting pictures stand out starkly in Sansarpur village on the outskirts of Jalandhar. On the one hand, inadequate sports infrastructure coupled with garbage littered byways; on the other, houses adorning hockey and Olympic Games insignias.

With 14 Olympians and over 300 national and international players under its belt, the village has earned the sobriquet of ‘Mecca of hockey’ in Punjab but seems to have fallen off government radar. And as elections approach, the locals want to hit back. Aggrieved villagers have threatened to boycott the elections and even asked political parties to stay away. FULL STORY

Baptism by Fire for Ganieve Kaur Majithia

It will be baptism by fire for Ganieve Kaur Majithia who was the Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) last minute choice for the Majitha assembly constituency after former minister in the Akali government and her husband, Bikram Majithia, decided to shift to Amritsar to take on his bitter rival Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu. Kaur, 46, however, insists she’s “safe” on her home turf. FULL STORY

NRI Belt Wants Stable Govt, Business Environment

Doaba region is aptly called the “NRI belt” of Punjab and the NRI influence on the electoral fortunes cannot be underestimated. With almost every household in Doaba having a family member settled abroad, it is this chunk that political parties are aggressively targeting in the February 20 assembly elections. With two years of Covid-19 pandemic having impacted the global economy, families here are hoping for a stable business environment. FULL STORY

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