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Tough battle awaits Harsimrat Badal in Bathinda

The Akali Dal had contested the 2022 assembly elections in alliance with the BSP. It had won only three seats, down from 15 in 2017, in the 117-member House….writes VISHAL GULATI

A tough battle awaits Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who held portfolios in both the Modi-led central governments, is eyeing to retain the politically significant Bathinda seat, also known as Punjab’s cotton belt, for the fourth consecutive term.

Wife of the century-old regional political outfit Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) Chief Sukhbir Badal and daughter-in-law of five-time Chief Minister late Parkash Singh Badal, she’s facing a stiff multi-cornered contest from rival candidates.

The reason: The Akali Dal is in the parliamentary fray alone for the first time since it snapped nearly three-decade-long ties and pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in September 2020 over the contentious, now-repealed farm laws.

On earlier occasions, this seat had been contested by SAD candidates as part of the seat-sharing pact with the BJP since 1996.

Also, Harsimrat Kaur, who’s known as Biba (the good girl), is fighting an anti-incumbency sentiment that has gathered strength over the past 15 years at a time when her party is out of power in the state since the 2017 assembly elections.

The Akali Dal had contested the 2022 assembly elections in alliance with the BSP. It had won only three seats, down from 15 in 2017, in the 117-member House.

Pitted against Harsimrat Kaur (58), are former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer and BJP candidate Parampal Kaur Sidhu (59) Congress’ Jeetmohinder Singh Sidhu and the state ruling AAP’s Gurmeet Khuddian, the state Agriculture Minister.

The Shiromani Akali Dal-Amritsar has announced to support gangster-turned-social activist and Independent candidate Lakha Sidhana.

Unlike Harsimrat Badal, four others in the fray for Lok Sabha berth are first-timers.

Bathinda is a pocket borough of the Badal family as their party has won six of the last seven parliamentary elections.

In 2009, Harsimrat Kaur defeated Congress leader Raninder Singh, son of Capt Amarinder Singh, who is now with the BJP, by a margin of over one lakh votes.

In 2014, Harsimrat Kaur, who normally covers head with a dupatta (scarf), defeated her estranged brother-in-law Manpreet Singh Badal, who fought the election with Congress backing, by a slender margin of over 19,000 votes.

In 2019, Harsimrat, whose assets were over Rs 40 crore, managed to defeat Congress candidate and legislator Amrinder Singh Raja Warring by a thin margin of 21,772 votes in a closely contested battle.

As the poll campaign picks up in Bathinda, a bitter battle breaks up with candidates targeting one other.

BJP’s greenhorn candidate Parampal Kaur, whose request for voluntary retirement was turned down this week and told to resume duties immediately, believes the Centre’s initiatives like AIIMS and Central University are just the beginning of a transformative journey of Bathinda.

During her campaigns, she says in the future, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bathinda will ascend among the country’s top cities.

Expressing disapproval of political parties attempting to take credit for establishing AIIMS in Bathinda, she said, “The idea behind establishing AIIMS and Central University in Bathinda stems from Prime Minister Modi’s vision.”

Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann this week tore into Harsimrat Badal, Sukhbir Badal, Capt Amarinder Singh, Manpreet Badal and other Opposition leaders for looting Punjab and taking anti-Punjab decisions during their governments.

Campaigning for AAP candidate Khuddian, he appealed to the people that “you’ve defeated stalwarts like Parkash Singh Badal here, it’s time to throw Harsimrat Badal out of the Parliament too”.

He said she was part of the cabinet of the Modi government who approved anti-farmers Bills, the entire Badal family including Prakash Singh Badal defended these Bills, later when they witnessed the force of the farmer’s movement they took a U-turn.

“But before the elections, these Akali leaders used to go to Delhi and beg the BJP for alliance,” Mann added.

The BJP, which contested in alliance with the breakaway Punjab Lok Congress of Capt Amarinder Singh, in the 2022 assembly polls managed to win only two seats, down from three in 2017.

Campaigning in the constituency, Sukhbir Badal said, “Now the contest has become one of Punjab di fauj — the Akali Dal against the Delhi-based parties.”

Stating that the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had taken Punjab back by decades during the past seven years, the SAD President said, “Erstwhile Congress government befooled farmers with false oaths of complete loan waiver.”

He said AAP had promised to eradicate drugs within days, but the scourge of drugs had increased manifold during the last two years with hundreds of youth dying of drug overdose.

Punjab will go to the polls for the 13 parliamentary seats on June 1.

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