The Shiromani Akali Dal Tuesday announced names of party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and his wife and Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal as candidates from Ferozepur and Bathinda Lok Sabha constituencies, respectively putting an end to weeks long speculation over the two seats that also saw Congress delaying announcing its nominees.
"It has been decided that SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal will contest from Ferozepur seat and Harsimrat will contest from the Bathinda seat," party patron Parkash Singh Badal announced at their native Badal village.
Party spokesperson and former minister Daljit Singh Cheema said the decision to field Sukhbir was taken following a strong demand from party leaders and workers of the Lok Sabha seat. "Besides respecting the sentiments of party leaders and workers, Parkash Singh Badal also took opinion of the senior leadership and core committee members," said Cheema. Click here for more election news
After taking a final opinion of leaders and workers of both the alliance partners - BJP and SAD - of the Ferozepur constituency Monday night, the Akali leadership announced Sukhbir as the party candidate from Ferozepur, he said.
With this SAD has named candidates for 10 seats it is contesting in Punjab alliance with the BJP. The saffron party has fielded candidates on the remaining three of the total 13 seats.
Sukhbir Badal, currently MLA from Jalalabad assembly, which falls in Ferozepur parliamentary constituency, had last contested Lok Sabha polls in 1999 from the Faridkot seat. He be facing Akali rebel and Congress nominee Sher Singh Ghubaya.
On the other hand, Harsimrat, a two-time MP, is seeking a third consecutive term from Bathinda where she will be pitted against facing Congress nominee and MLA Amarinder Singh Raja Warring.
It was a foregone conclusion that the Badal couple will be fielded from the two crucial seats, especially with a view to boost the morale of the party cadre following SAD's poor performance in 2017 assembly poll when it could won only 14 out of the 117 seats – an all time low.
By naming the Akali "power couple" from the two seats, the SAD seems to be replicating a strategy that the Congress had applied in 2014 general elections and in 2017 state polls. In 2014, Capt Amarinder, who was then state Congress president, had contested from Amritsar against BJP's Arun Jaitely while his wife and former Union minister Perneet Kaur was fielded from her traditional seat, Patiala. "Even in 2017 assembly polls, Amarinder filed papers from Patiala and Lambi. He was aware that he will not be able to win from Lambi against then CM Parkash Singh Badal, but the idea was to create a wave for the party in the Malwa region to motivate the Congress workers," an Akali leader from Lambi said while talking to The Indian Express.
However Charanjeet Brar, political advisor to Sukhbir, said the party was was not trying to replicate Congress model. "The party president is contesting the Lok Sabha polls to shut the critics who are saying that the SAD is in a crisis. From the very day the talk about Sukhbir contesting the polls bagen making the rounds, morale of workers went up. When the Army General fights from the front, the soldiers fear nothing," Brar said.
He observed that with Sukhbir and Harsimrat contesting from Frozepur and Bathinda, 18 assembly segments (nine in each Parliamentary constituency) will directly witness a pro-Akali wave. The Akali candidates in neighbouring seats of Khadoor Sahib, Sangrur, Faridkot will also be benefited. It is going to be a tough poll for the Congress," he added.
Parkash Badal, meanwhile, said, "This is an election for choosing country's PM and we want Narendra Modi to be the PM again. If Sukhbir contests, the alliance can yield better results".
Sukhbir had started his political career in 1996 by contesting the Lok Sabha poll from Faridkot, as seat he went on to represent twice. In 1996, he defeated Congress's Jagmeet Brar. He again defeated Brar in 1998. From 1998-1999, he remained Union Minister of state. In 1999, he lost to Brar. Sukhbir remained a member of Rajya Sabha from 2001 to 2004. In 2004, he was re-elected from Faridkot Lok Sabha seat.
He made his foray into the state politics in 2009, contesting the bypoll to Jalalabad assembly seat. The seat had been by then SAD leader Sher Singh Ghubaya who went to contest Lok Sabha polls from Ferozepur in 2009 and 2014. Sukhbir won from Jalalabad in 2012 state polls and retained the seat in 2017, but his victory margin kept shrinking. If Sukhbir wins, a bypoll will be necessitated in Jalalabad and SAD did not rule out his entry into state politics again in 2022. "Law permits an elected representative to contest another election. Hence, one should not have any objection about it," said Brar.
Harsimrat, meanwhile, had entered electoral politics in 2009 winning her maiden election from Bathinda against Congress candidate and Amarinder's son Raninder Singh, who too was making his electoral debut. She defeated Raninder with a margin of more than 1.2 lakh votes. In 2014, she defeated her estranged brother-in-law Manpreet Badal, who had contested as Congress candidate, with a narrow margin of about 19,000 votes. She is currently Union Minister for Food Processing Industries.