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Double prestige at stake for Sukhbir Badal

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,

Bathinda (Punjab): As the young head of a political party with mostly ageing leaders, Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal has a lot at stake in this Lok Sabha elections in Punjab.

Badal junior, who is also the state’s deputy chief minister in his father-cum-Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s government, has to prove that he can lead the Akalis to victory and has personal prestige involved in this election as well.

His wife, Harsimrat Kaur, is contesting the poll for the Bathinda parliamentary seat. What is even more important about her election is that she faces a very tough opponent in Congress candidate Raninder Singh, the son of former chief minister Amarinder Singh – descendants of the Patiala royal family.

The fight between the ruling Akalis and the Congress in Bathinda is the biggest one between two leading political families of Punjab. The tough contest is forcing top leaders from both sides to camp in this constituency to ensure victory for their side.

Even the attention of those in the poll fray is more on Bathinda than on their own seats.

Badal junior, who took over the reins of the Akali Dal from his father last year and became deputy chief minister in January this year, will have a lot to prove this time.

Not only he has to ensure the victory of his wife from Bathinda but his own leadership will be tested in other constituencies across Punjab this time. This is the first major election he faces after becoming Akali Dal president.

Given the high stakes, Badal himself has been forced to spend a lot of time in the Bathinda constituency even though other candidates have been seeking his presence in other areas. Badal junior has emerged as the Akali-BJP alliance’s star campaigner this time, over-shadowing his ageing father Parkash Singh Badal.

Out of Punjab’s 13 Lok Sabha seats, the Akalis had won eight seats while alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had bagged three seats in the 2004 general elections. The Congress, which was in power at that time with Amarinder Singh as chief minister, could manage only two seats. One of these, Patiala, was won by Amarinder Singh’s wife Preneet Kaur.

The outcome of the Lok Sabha polls here will also reflect on the two-year-old Badal government.

Other high profile contestants include cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu (BJP-Amritsar), actor Vinod Khanna (BJP-Gurdaspur), All-India Congress Committee spokesman Manish Tewari (Congress-Ludhiana), Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal (Akali Dal-Fatehgarh Sahib) and Sufi singer Hans Raj Hans (Akali Dal-Jalandhar).

Elections to four seats – Bathinda, Sangrur, Patiala and Ferozepur – will be held May 7 while the remaining nine Lok Sabha constituencies go to polls May 13. Punjab has over 16.80 million voters, with over 8.78 million being men and 8.02 million being women.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])