Punjab polls: Get, set, switch — Turncoats’ parkour season - Hindustan Times
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Punjab polls: Get, set, switch — Turncoats’ parkour season

By, Chandigarh
Feb 01, 2022 02:17 AM IST

Party-hopping has been the flavour of the poll season in Punjab. No political party is untouched by the phenomenon as the turncoats moved around in hordes in search of greener pastures

When the poll season is on, party-hopping cannot be far behind, and turncoats this time are having a field day like never before.

The BJP’s list of candidates for Punjab polls is packed with those who switched sides from other parties, including three sitting Congress MLAs Fatehjang Bajwa, Rana Gurmit Sodhi and Harjot Kamal and several ex-MLAs. (ANI)
The BJP’s list of candidates for Punjab polls is packed with those who switched sides from other parties, including three sitting Congress MLAs Fatehjang Bajwa, Rana Gurmit Sodhi and Harjot Kamal and several ex-MLAs. (ANI)

The multiplicity of parties has spawned a plethora of new opportunities for turncoats with dozens of ticket aspirants shifting loyalties in the run-up to the February 20 elections. Though parties of all hues embraced turncoats with open arms, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which never tires of projecting itself as the party with a difference, has around 40 candidates, out of the total 117, who have switched either from the Congress or the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

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The AAP has fielded former Congressman Gurmeet Khudian to fight five-time former chief minister (CM) Parkash Singh Badal in the latter’s stronghold of Lambi. Khudian, son of former MP Jagdev Singh, was the covering candidate of former CM Capt Amarinder Singh during the 2017 assembly elections and jumped ship to the AAP in July last year. In Jalalabad, former Youth Congress general secretary Jagdeep Goldy Kamboj, who joined the AAP two years ago, is fighting Badal’s son and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal.

Another turncoat, Ajitpal Kohli, a former mayor of Patiala whose family remained associated with the Akali Dal for almost seven decades, is pitted against Amarinder in Patiala Urban. Barring some, other turncoats shifted their allegiance in the past year, and some, like Kohli, got the ticket within hours or days of joining the party.

In Ludhiana, seven of the 14 party candidates have come from Congress and other parties. Though there have been protests by those whose ticket claims got ignored, the party leadership has justified the long list.

AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal said that there were good people in other parties who felt suffocated. “They did not have an option earlier, but now have an honest party in AAP. I tell people who want to work for the country to come and join us,” Kejriwal said at a press conference on Sunday in response to a question on tickets to turncoats. The AAP had emerged as the principal opposition party with 20 seats in 2017.

Hopping across parties

The two traditional players, the Congress and SAD, which saw several of their leaders switching loyalties to the AAP and other outfits, also have turncoats in their line-ups. The Congress, though played safe by sticking to most of its 80 sitting MLAs, has fielded nine turncoats. Of the six MLAs who defected from the AAP, it has fielded three – Sukhpal Khaira, who rejoined the party after five years, from Bholath; Rupinder Ruby from Malout (Reserved); and Jagtar Singh Hissowal from Jagraon (Reserved). Ruby and Hissowal were elected from Bathinda Rural and Raikot seats, respectively, in 2017.

Ashu Bangar, the candidate who left the AAP after having started campaigning in Ferozepur Rural (Reserved), is now the Congress nominee from the same seat. Two-time former MP Mohan Singh Phalianwala and Sukhwinder Kotli, who changed sides from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), have been fielded from Jalalabad and Adampur (Reserved) seats. Phalianwala got the ticket after sitting MLA Raminder Awla opted out, whereas Kotli had joined the party just days before his name appeared on the Congress list. “Barring a couple of them, other choices betray desperation or lack of understanding. If tickets were to go to turncoats, the party could have looked for better options in Patiala and Jalalabad,” a senior party said, expressing annoyance over the poor selection.

The turncoats on the SAD list are Anil Joshi from Amritsar North, Jagmeet Singh Brar from Maur, Mohinder Kumar Rinwa from Abohar and Hans Raj Josan from Fazilka. Rinwa and Josan, both senior Congress leaders, joined the SAD last year, whereas Brar is also a former Congressman and had defeated Sukhbir from the Faridkot Lok Sabha seat in 1999. For veteran leaders Ranjit Singh Brahmpura and Sucha Singh Chhotepur, and Amarpal Ajnala who had fallen out with the Akali leadership, it is ‘homecoming’, and all three have been fielded.

‘More parties, the merrier it gets’

Ashutosh Kumar, professor of political science at Panjab University, said winnability has become the credo of all political parties. “They (parties), particularly the new ones that do not have established cadres and are eager to make an impact or expand quickly, do not care about ideology, loyalty quotient, and past track record. Money power does count, though. The more the parties, the merrier it gets for turncoats,” he said, commenting on increasing party-hopping.

The BJP’s list of candidates is also packed with those who switched sides from other parties, including three sitting Congress MLAs Fatehjang Bajwa, Rana Gurmit Sodhi and Harjot Kamal and several ex-MLAs. The story of its alliance partners, Capt Amarinder Singh’s Punjab Lok Congress and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa-led SAD (Sanyukt), is not much different. Amarinder was hoping for some of his former ministers and MLAs to join his new party, lending it political heft, but no one did. Barring a few, most of their candidates are likely to end up among also-rans, and in some cases as spoilers for others.

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