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Chandigarh: If the contest between Amarinder Singh and Parkash Singh Badal was the main clash during the 2017 Punjab assembly polls, Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia confronting Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu in the latter’s constituency, Amritsar (East), has the same drama in 2022.
While the media has pitched their clash as a high-voltage battle with the leaders’ prestige at stake, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)’s surprise move on Wednesday, January 26 is not without a reason.
The party has been under pressure over Majithia ever since Jagdish Bhola, main accused in a multi-crore drug cartel in Punjab, named Majithia in 2014 along with others for their alleged involvement in drug trafficking in Punjab.
Akalis faced a humiliating defeat in the 2017 elections, when Congress made the drug menace its main poll issue and promised action against Majithia.
The trouble for the Akalis, who are in a do-or-die situation this time, was heightened again when the Congress, soon after removing its chief minister Amarinder Singh who was accused of going soft on the Badals, slapped an NDPS case against Majithia last month.
The case was also a personal setback for SAD president Sukhbir Badal, who is close to Majithia. Majithia is the younger brother of Sukhbir Badal’s wife and former Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal.
Under the Badal-controlled Akali Dal, Majithia grew in stature and now literally commands the party in Punjab’s Majha area, which sends 23 MLAs to the 117-member state assembly.
Even as Badal has been accusing the Congress of registering a false against Majithia, SAD again came under pressure when the Punjab and Haryana high court on January 24 rejected Majithia’s anticipatory bail.
Majithia’s bail plea is now pending before the Supreme Court. On Thursday, January 27, the apex court granted Majithia protection from arrest till January 30.
By fielding Majithia against Sidhu, SAD has made an attempt to shift the whole focus of the election to a single seat. There is political posturing behind the decision, to send a public message that the Akali Dal is not cowed down by the rejection of anticipatory bail or the criminal case. SAD insists the case arises out of political vendetta.
Badal on Wednesday even said that he would quit politics if the Congress produced any proof of drug trafficking against Majithia.
Majithia is not, however, putting his political career at stake by fighting against Sidhu. He will also contest from his traditional family seat, the Majitha constituency that he has been winning since 2007.
He comes from an aristocratic Sikh family tracing its lineage to Raja Surat Singh of Majitha.
His great grandfather, Sundar Singh Majithia is said to have played a role in Sikh reform Singh Sabha movement towards the end of the ninth century. But Sidhu held a press conference in 2019 asking Majithia to apologise for the alleged dinner hosted by his great grandfather, Sundar Singh for the “butcher of Jallianwala Bagh”, General Dyer, after the massacre in 1919.
Tug of war between Sidhu-Majithia nothing new
Sidhu is believed to have played a key role in getting the case registered against Majithia.
After getting Amarinder removed, he kept up the pressure on new the chief minister, Charanjit Singh Channi, to implement the IGP Harpreet Singh Sidhu-headed task force report, which probed Majithia’s role in drug trafficking.
While announcing Majithia’s candidature on Wednesday, Badal accused Sidhu and the Congress government of targeting his brother-in-law as part of a political conspiracy. “Majithia is a Gur Sikh who has been wrongly implicated in a drugs case. He will take on Sidhu who was instrumental in the political vendetta against Majithia. We will break his (Sidhu) arrogance by ensuring he loses his security deposit.”
Sidhu, who spent 14 years in the BJP before joining the Congress, defeated the BJP’s Rakesh Kumar Honey by over 40,000 votes from this constituency in the last polls.
While Sidhu’s reaction is awaited, his wife Navjot Kaur told the media, “I don’t feel that there is any arrogance in us, we go door to door. Arrogant are those who don’t step out of cars.”
She said Majithia’s candidature was “no challenge” for them. “We will dismantle his arrogance by registering a win in the elections,” she added
Sidhu and Majithia were said to have been on good terms when Sidhu was in the BJP. Majithia recently said in a media interview that he had a huge role to play in Sidhu’s victory in the 2009 parliamentary election from Amritsar, a constituency that he represented between 2004 and 2014.
Their bickering, however, began much before Sidhu joined the Congress before the last elections.
Once in the opposite camp, both stopped seeing eye to eye, and Sidhu went after Majithia on the drugs issue.
They both lost their cool many times during assembly sessions. They nearly came to blows during the last assembly session two months ago in November. In view of the heavy uproar, the audio of the house was muted then.
Amritsar East constituency came into existence only in 2012 after delimitation. Sidhu’s wife was the first MLA from here before he won it last time very comfortably, since there was no big face contesting against him. But the situation has changed this time after Majithia’s entry.
Senior journalist Jagtar Singh said that the battle between Majithia and Sidhu is going to be the main highlight of the election. This is the one decision which could give a massive lift to the Akali Dal’s election campaign.
“Majithia is presently known as the strongest leader of the Majha belt rooted to the ground. He has his own strong network of party activists. His entry means that Sidhu will now have to devote more time to his own constituency, thereby leaving less time to campaign for other candidates,” he said.
AAP’s Punjab chief ministerial candidate and MP Bhagwant Mann said on Friday that the Majithia-Sidhu tussle is mere poll drama to deflect people’s attention from real issues.
Mann said that while contesting for the first time from Delhi, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal defeated Congress veteran and then chief minister Sheila Dikshit and that similarly, to teach a lesson to Congress-SAD leaders in Punjab this time around, the people of the state should make the common leaders of AAP victorious.
Mann said that in these elections, too, AAP candidates are from ordinary families, while the big names of Congress and SAD are in the fray against them. Giving the example of Sangrur, he said that AAP’s ordinary woman candidate Narinder Kaur Bharaj is contesting against Congress minister Vijay Inder Singla and former MLA Arvind Khanna of the BJP, noting that she does her household chores in addition to her election campaign.
Similarly, AAP’s Jagtar Singh, the young leader from a common household, is contesting against the ‘Liquor King’ in Samrala.
He added further that in Batala, Sherry Kalsi, a young man from a very modest household, is fighting the elections against Congress MLA Ashwini Sekhri.
Mann said that he hopes this time the people of Punjab will teach a lesson to these big names of the Congress, SAD and BJP by electing AAP’s ‘ordinary’ candidates.
Meanwhile, Majithia on Friday filed his nomination from the Majitha and Amritsar East assembly seats. After filing the nominations, Majithia slammed Sidhu, calling him a cheat.
“He is a man who betrays anybody for his benefit,” said Majithia. “Sidhu hardly visited his constituency in last five years. People will call his bluff this time,” he added.