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Pro-Khalistan politician wins Sangrur by-election in Punjab

The all-important Lok Sabha seat was held by current CM Bhagwant Mann
Bhagwant Mann.
Bhagwant Mann.
File photo

Pheroze L. Vincent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 27.06.22, 02:18 AM

A pro-Khalistan politician has won the Lok Sabha seat that was held by AAP leader Bhagwant Mann before he took over as Punjab chief minister.

Simranjit Singh Mann, a 77-year-old former IPS officer who quit in 1984 to protest the security operation in the Golden Temple, has been elected to Parliament from Sangrur in the by-election whose result was announced on Sunday. His SAD (Amritsar) is the only party in electoral politics that still upholds the idea of a free Khalistan.

Simranjit Mann defeated the Aam Aadmi Party’s Gurmail Singh, a sarpanch, by a margin of less than 1 per cent.

All other parties have lost their deposits. The Congress’s vote share has plunged from 27.4 per cent to 11.21 per cent, and the BJP secured 9.33 per cent. The Akali Dal could draw only a little over 6 per cent of the votes.

The AAP holds all the Assembly segments, which include the seats of the chief minister and two other ministers, in the parliamentary constituency.

In private, AAP leaders attributed the loss to overconfidence and the inaccessibility of its MLAs, the party having won 92 of the state’s 117 constituencies. Analysts feel the setback to the AAP could signal an attempt by the BJP to fill what appears an Opposition vacuum in the state.

Amandeep Sandhu, author and chronicler of Punjab, wrote on Facebook: “When the results of Panjab’s Assembly elections 2022 came in, AAP claimed it was a vote in their favour. I maintained: it was an anti-Akali and anti-Congress vote. AAP won because it was around…. Having known the land and its many betrayals by Congress, Akalis, now AAP, I just wanted the governance to be empathetic, to heal Panjab. That did not happen.”

Sandhu uses the traditional spelling for Punjab.

He added: “Ex-IPS, then called Khalistani, tortured, in solitary confinement for five years, won Lok Sabha elections in Panjab, then kept losing for close to two decades and now he has won again.

“This win would have repercussions not only for AAP but tongues would wag in traditional parties like Congress and BJP. (Shiromani) Akali Dal (SAD) is literally wiped out. The nation will once again start its worn-out narrative: the vote is anti-national, it smells of secessionism, Panjab has gone beyond the brink. I hope people look at the Supreme Court judgement which says use of the term Khalistan in slogans is not sedition.”

Simranjit Mann became an MP for the first from Tarn Taran in 1989 while he was in prison. He resigned after being denied permission to carry his longer-than-usual kirpan into Parliament.

He was acquitted of all charges. The last time Simranjit Mann was elected to Parliament was in 1999, from Sangrur. He won 35.61 per cent of votes this time.

On Sunday, he struck a conciliatory note. “My priority will be to raise the issue of the poor economic condition of Sangrur, including the condition of farmers under debt. We will work with the Punjab government.”

Political activists and journalists on the ground cited multiple reasons for the result: the inaccessibility of many AAP legislators when the people needed them, the withdrawal of security for popular singer Sidhu Moosewala before his murder, and the withering of the traditional parties.

However, rationalist activist Amit Mitter of Barnala, the biggest city in the constituency, told The Telegraph: “The Akali Dal has lost the most and the BJP has gained. The withering away of the Badals and the corresponding gain of the BJP could become a trend, unless the other main parties do something about it.”

The Akali Dal had fielded Bibi Kamaldeep Kaur Rajoana, sister of a man convicted of the assassination of former chief minister Beant Singh. She got only 6.25 per cent of the votes, down from 23.8 per cent in 2019 when the party was a BJP ally.

Both Kaur and Simranjeet Mann had said there was no religious divide and that they had the support of Hindus as well.

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