Lok Bhalai Party merges with Akali Dal in Punjab

Ludhiana, Nov 23 (IANS) Led by its president and former union minister Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, the Lok Bhalai Party (LBP) Wednesday announced its merger with Punjab's ruling Shiromani Akali Dal.

The merger was announced by Ramoowalia in the presence of party patron and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal at a rally in Ludhiana city.

'We are happy to be joining the Akali Dal. The LBP has been highlighting the plight of the common man,' Ramoowalia told the rally.

'We welcome Ramoowalia and other leaders and supporters of the LBP into the Akali Dal fold. We will give full respect and support to the LBP leaders and activists,' Sukhbir Badal said.

Though the talks between both sides for a possible merger, ahead of the likely assembly elections February-March next year, were taking place during the last few weeks, the formal announcement came after the chief minister made an appeal to Ramoowalia Tuesday to rejoin the Akali Dal.

Ramoowalia had earlier been part of the Akali Dal but left the party over two decades ago.

In a letter to the LBP leader, Badal said his (Ramoowalia's) re-joining the Akali Dal would strengthen the party.

The LBP, which has been spearheading the cause of Punjabi youth being duped by illegal immigration agents in the name of sending them abroad, has also been highlighting the plight of young brides from Punjab being abandoned by their Non-Resident Indian (NRI) husbands.

Elections to the 117-member state assembly are likely to be held February-March next year.

While the main contest will be between the Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance and the opposition Congress, the new political outfit, People's Party of Punjab (PPP), floated by Badal's politically estranged nephew and former finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal, is likely to make the contest three-cornered in many constituencies.