Congress to fight 'deserter' in Punjab by-poll

Chandigarh, Jan 26 (IANS) Till last month, Joginder Pal Jain was a Congress legislator in Punjab. He then quit the party and joined the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal. Now, the Congress is marshalling all its resources to defeat the "deserter" in the Feb 23 by-election to the Moga assembly seat.

The by-election will see Jain being fielded by the Akali Dal, while the Congress is yet to finalise its candidate. Nominations have to be filed by Feb 6.

The by-poll is turning out to be a showdown between the Akali Dal and the Congress.

While the Akalis are rejoicing over having caused a mini-coup in the Congress by making Jain defect, the latter's leadership wants to prove that the Moga electorate will not go with a "deserter".

Jain had quit his assembly seat and the Congress Dec 26 and joined the Akali Dal. This was seen in Punjab's political circles as a move by Akali Dal president and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal to embarrass the Congress.

Badal had been claiming that some Congress legislators were in touch with him.

What was significant about Jain's exit is that he has risked quitting his seat within the first year of the assembly's five-year term.

The Punjab assembly poll was held last Jan 30 and the results were declared in early March.

"I joined the Akali Dal unconditionally. I was feeling disappointed with the style of functioning of the Congress leadership and the infighting in the party. Dissidents were being encouraged against me," Jain had said after joining the Akali Dal.

The Congress leadership, including state Congress president and former chief minister Amarinder Singh, Congress Working Committee (CWC) member Jagmeet Singh Brar, Leader of Opposition Sunil Jakhar and others are mostly camping in Moga to ensure that the party retains the seat.

Calling Jain a "deserter" who had done a "business deal" with the Akali Dal, the Congress leaders are now telling Moga voters to "punish" him.

"The people of Moga have to deliver their verdict whether the betrayal should be rewarded or punished. This by-election will change the course of Punjab's political history," Amarinder Singh said at a recent rally in Moga, 170 km from Chandigarh.

"Jain himself said he was a businessman, he is now at the right place and in the right party, since all of them including Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Badal and Bikram Majithia were only doing business. Jain is now history," Amarinder said.

Jagmeet Singh Brar said: "The Moga by-election will decide whether a deserter who had betrayed his own people should be honoured or punished.

"I am confident that the people of Moga will teach a lesson to Jain so that no one else will dare to betray."

Jakhar ridiculed Jain for saying he had "certain compulsions to join the Akali Dal".

"Such leaders do not have any compulsions, but only weaknesses that make them succumb to temptation," Jakhar said.

But for Jain, the switching of loyalties is no guarantee of a smooth victory in the by-poll.

Senior Akali Dal leaders of Moga district are upset with the Akali leadership for promoting him at their cost.

Former Punjab director general of police (DGP) P.S. Gill, who contested and lost against Jain as the Akali Dal candidate for the Moga seat last January, and his supporters are likely to play spoilsport for Jain.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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