SAD patriarch faces challenge from newbies on home turf Lambi
Leaders of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) are sparing no effort to protect the political prestige of their patriarch and 94-year-old former chief minister, Parkash Singh Badal, who is seeking a sixth consecutive term from Lambi’s seat in Muktsar district .
The 11-time lawmaker is Punjab’s oldest and most experienced electoral candidate and he faces a political challenge from newbies on his home turf.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has fielded Gurmeet Singh Khuddian while the Congress candidate is Jagpal Singh Abul Khurana. Both carry the political heritage of their families to take on the big old man of Punjab politics. The Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) takes part in the elections in Lambi for the first time; the same goes for the candidate of the saffron party, Rakesh Dhingra.
The electoral contest in this rural seat is heavily guarded, but lacks the triangular great-power contest of 2017. In the last election, Congress pitted its leader and former chief minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, while the now deceased journalist Jarnail Singh, who came onto the scene in 2009 for throwing a shoe at then Union Minister P Chidambaram, was the AAP candidate. Badal won by 22,770 votes.
Badal moved to Lambi in 1997 and won all five state elections thereafter. That year, he recorded his highest margin of victory of 28,728 votes, against Gurnam Singh Abul Khurana. The lowest winning margin of 9,187 was recorded in 2007.
The veteran leader has several firsts up his political sleeves spanning more than 75 years. Badal started his political career as a sarpanch in the year of India’s independence. Later, he became the youngest CM in Punjab in 1970. In 2012, at the age of 84, Badal was sworn in as the oldest CM in the state. It was his record fifth run as a CM.
Defying his age, Badal returned to campaigning on Thursday after recovering from a post-Covid infection. “I had no intention of standing for election. But I respect my party’s decision to challenge again. Voters should see the political credentials of all parties to see that only SAD has worked for inclusive development with emphasis on community harmony,” he told a group of Lambi villagers while welcoming them into Akali’s sheepfold.
Flying high on the AAP’s ‘Delhi model’ narrative, Gurmeet Singh Khuddian is emerging as a formidable contender against Patriarch Akali. His father, the late Jagdev Singh Khuddian, was elected as a member of the Lok Sabha of Faridkot on the Akali Dal (Mann) ticket in 1989. There is still talk of his death in mysterious circumstances shortly after.
Gurmeet, a former Muktsar District Congress President considered close to Captain Amarinder Singh, had left the party in July last year (the day Navjot Singh Sidhu was appointed head of the state unit) to join the PAA.
During an election rally at the Mohlan village of Muktsar on Thursday, he attacked not only Badal but even Amarinder for ignoring interest from Punjab and Punjabis.
“Parkash Singh Badal is a symbol of dynastic politics who worked to protect the interests of his own family. The captain has spent over four years of his tenure as CM at his luxurious mansion. Punjab has decided to bring about political change by moving away from these two centers of power,” Khuddian said.
Jagpal Singh Abul Khurana, the general secretary of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, is the political heir of the late Gurnam Singh Abul Khurana, a former minister. Gurnam Singh had won from Lambi in 1992 when Akalis did not contest the state elections.
“People want to get rid of the domination of this feudal family. The face of the Congress CM, Charanjit Singh Channi, will work to bring about a change in the politics of the state where political power will shift to a representative of the masses,” Jagpal Singh often says during election meetings.