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|November 18, 1998||
Spoilers Mann, BSP could decide Adampur contest
Though the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine and the opposition Congress have both stepped up their campaigns in Adampur assembly constituency with a flurry of visits by national and state-level politicians, the outcome of the by-election depends largely on the showing of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Akali Dal (Mann) as well as the impact of the Communist Party of India's decision to back the Congress.
Punjab BSP secretary Darshan Lal Jathumajra claims his party's candidate, Vidwant Kaur, is the main rival of SAD-BJP candidate Dalbir Singh Dhirowal. He said Kaur would improve upon the 17,768 votes secured by BSP candidate Rajinder Kumar Chakhiara in the February 1997 assembly election.
But political observers believe the BSP's gains will be at the expense of Congress candidate Kalamjit Singh Lalli. Though Chakhiara is now with the Congress, no one knows if he will be able to make a dent among the Dalits who form the biggest chunk of 40,000 votes in the constituency with an electorate of 119,553.
Jathumajra said Vidwant Kaur would take the biggest slice of the dalit vote and also make an impact on the Rajput and Lahana Sikh communities that together have about 15,000 votes. Besides, he claimed, Kaur would get some Jat Sikh votes by virtue of belonging to that community. Her supporters in the Congress, which she quit on October 3, will also vote for her, he said.
But Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee general secretary Partap Singh Bajwa and Punjab Youth Congress vice-president Sukhpal Singh believe the dalits are disillusioned with the BSP. As proof, they point to the recent Sham Chaurasi assembly by-election where the BSP's share came down to about 8,000 votes from 19,243 in February 1997.
Bajwa and Sukhpal Singh said a big chunk of dalit votes and an overwhelming majority of Hindu voters, estimated at about 12,000, coupled with the en bloc transfer of over 5,000 Communist votes would see their candidate through. Lalli had polled 24,274 votes in the 1997 election. That had included the CPI's votes, since the Communists had had an informal understanding with the Congress.
Captain Amarinder Singh, who took over the reins of the Punjab Congress recently, is working hard to woo the Jat Sikhs who hold the second biggest chunk of about 37,0000 votes in the constituency. He claimed the Congress would get most of the Valmik and scheduled-caste Sikh votes, estimated at about 8,000. The three towns of Adampur, Alawalpur and Bhogpur, which together have more than 22,000 voters, would also support the Congress, he said.
Captain Singh, along with an army of former ministers and Punjab Congress office-bearers, is canvassing hard in the belief that success will not only swing the party's fortunes but also help him consolidate his grip over the party.
Similarly, the reputation of newly appointed Congress Legislature Party leader Choudhary Jagjit Singh is at stake. The party high command had chosen him over former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal in the hope that he, a Dalit politician, would be able to swing Dalit votes to the Congress. The party has also asked general secretary Meira Kumar to address a rally at Adampur on Friday, November 20.
But SAD poll managers, including a team of more than 20 ministers led by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal himself, claim they will easily retain the seat won by the late Sarup Singh by more than 16,000 votes in 1997. Singh's death on August 29 necessitated this by-election.
The Jat Sikh voters are the mainstay of the Akalis, though the Congress and BSP candidates also belong to that community. And with Badal personally supervising the campaign, the mood in the SAD is upbeat. Having campaigned for three consecutive days early last week, Badal campaigned in the area again after his return from Bathinda on November 13. He reviewed the campaign with party managers at a meeting in Adampur town on Sunday.
But if the BSP can scuttle the prospects of the Congress, the transfer of radical Sikh votes to Akali Dal (Amritsar) candidate Anup Singh Minhas could make the going tough for the SAD.
Minhas, who has been fielded jointly by the Amritsar and Democratic factions of the Akali Dal, led by Simranjit Singh Mann and Kuldip Singh Wadala, respectively, could also take a considerable chunk of the Rajput Sikh votes as he belongs to that community.
Professor Jagmohan Singh Tony, Akali Dal (Amritsar) general secretary, claimed that they would also make a dent in the Jat Sikh votes, particularly among the youngsters. The party did not contest the 1997 assembly election in Adampur. Its Lok Sabha candidate, Harpal Singh, polled just 188 votes in this assembly segment in February this year.
Vijay Hans of the BSP (Ambedkar), who is also in the fray, is banking on the 4,000-odd Valmik votes in the constituency. He polled just 492 votes in this segment in the February Lok Sabha election.
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