Rai Sikhs divided in Ferozepur
It’s Sukhbir Singh Badal’s confidence and Sher Singh Ghubaya’s nervousness that is evident in this border constituency of Ferozepur. A theatre group hails the SAD before Sukhbir holds a meeting while a dhadhi jatha enthrals the dwindling audience at Ghubaya’s rally.
Sukhbir Badal, the sitting Jalalabad MLA, enjoys a huge following in the constituency, mainly because of development ushered in during the SAD-BJP rule.
Ghubaya, who rebelled against the SAD and joined the Congress days before the elections were announced, is fighting almost alone with little help from senior Congress leaders, such as Hans Raj Josan and Mohinder Rinwa. The support of party MLAs has been surficial. A united SAD cadre, on the other hand, has launched a powerful campaign for the SAD president.
For both Sukhbir and his bete noire Ghubaya, winning the seat is a matter of political survival. Sukhbir’s win would mean a revival of the SAD after the 2017 poll debacle. For Ghubaya, a defeat could mean the end of his political career. A win would consolidate his position in the Congress.
At every election meeting, Sukhbir talks about ‘gaddar’ (traitor) Ghubaya. “Kalla turreya phirda hai (He isroaming around all by himself) while I have the party cadre staunchly behind me. As the SAD president, I have to tour other constituencies. I am aware of your unconditional love for me. I won’t be able to come here again, but I know you will ensure that I get 80 per cent of the votes polled,” he tells crowds at Chak Janesar. He mingles with the people, obliging some with selfies amid sloganeering as he steps into his SUV for another election meeting.
Ghubaya, a Rai Sikh, is banking on the community to score a hat-trick. Rai Sikhs generally vote en bloc, which has helped him sail through twice, in 2009 and 2014. But this time, Sukhbir has managed to create a dent in the Rai Sikh vote bank, a matter of concern for Ghubaya. His community stands divided. While Surinder Kaur of Palliwala says they would vote for Sukhbir because of development works initiated by him as CM, at Kattianwali village, Partap Singh says they would stand by Ghubaya as Sukhbir had treated the community “shabbily.”
Ghubaya touches the feet of elderly women at a thinly attended rally. He says the CM and either Congress president Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka would be canvassing for him next week. He talks of “betrayal” by Sukhbir for whom he had vacated the Jalalabad Assembly seat in 2009.
His demeanour humble, he cautions people against PM Modi’s nationalism “propaganda”, hails Congress’ NYAY scheme and dwells on Sukhbir’s “illegally acquired wealth”.