A sharp decline in voter turnout marked the bypoll voting exercise that ended with a dismal count in Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency. Just 36.4% of voters turned out to exercise their franchise till 5 pm on Monday.
The final poll percentage was not released by the election commission till the time of filing this report. While in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, 72.40% of voters turned out to vote, just 10.9% people ventured out to vote in 1991 when terrorism reigned supreme in Punjab.
While in rural areas, the low turnout was attributed to paddy transplantation, no clear-cut reason could be given for it in urban areas. Interestingly, people had voted overwhelmingly in rural areas about four months ago for the Punjab assembly elections.
Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency’s poll percentage was 77.21% in 2014 general elections, while it was 74.41% in 2009 parliamentary elections. While 61.6% voters had voted in 2004 from this parliamentary constituency, 56.1% voters exercised their franchise in 1999 elections. The turnout was 60.1% in 1998 polls, while it was 62.2% in 1996 Sangrur Lok Sabha elections.
Though it was a five-cornered contest, at many places in Dhuri, Sunam and Dirba areas the Indian Express couldn’t find polling booths of Congress and SAD (Badal).
Interestingly, a late afternoon tweet of Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann surprised everyone as he appealed to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to increase the polling time from 6 pm to 7 pm as people in rural areas were busy in paddy transplantation.
He got strange replies on Twitter like “why he woke up so late for this when he knew that paddy season was on”.
Not only this, when as per the claims of Punjab CM, this time area under paddy transplantation has reduced as farmers have shifted to direct seeding of rice on about 20 lakh acres of land and have sown moong crop on a record 1 lakh acres, “so where was the rush to do paddy transplantation?”
“Paddy transplantation season in Punjab started from June 17 and hence the conditions were known to all the political parties beforehand, so this is just an excuse,” said Manoj Uppal, Congress leader from Malerkotla.
Outside Malerkotla’s Government College, one Mohammad Hussain, an 86-year-old voter, who came out of the polling booth after casting his vote was clear in giving his opinion as he said, “I have voted for the government.”
Liyakat Ali, a property dealer in Malerkotla, however, said, “People are angry with AAP. The biggest reason is that their MLAs are incommunicado. Voters can’t contact them. Not only this, they don’t even entertain their workers. So perhaps people may have preferred to keep themselves from voting.”
Manoj Uppal, Congress working president in Malerkotla, said, “People will opt for change yet again. You can see the voting pattern, it shows anger against this government.”
However, retired teacher Kuldeep Kaur (66), who cast his vote at Government High Smart School Police Line, had a different opinion. He said, “We gave so much time to other parties. AAP came to power just three months ago. So we need to give them proper time to perform. It takes time to fulfill the promises.”
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Posters of Gurmel Singh, the AAP candidate for Sangrur bypoll, could be seen all over the constituency and a common slogan on the posters was something along these lines – “Sarpanch se sansad tak Gurmel is sarpanch of Gharachon village of Sangrur and also Sangrur district president of AAP”.
Gurmel, after casting his vote, said, “Our party has cracked down on corruption and we are taking action against the corrupt people. I am aware that the youth have certain issues related to unemployment. I will surely raise them in Parliament if people vote me to power.”
A party release said that AAP leaders were confident of winning Sangrur by-election for a third consecutive term.
Gurmel Singh said, “After witnessing the trend of polling and enthusiasm of AAP workers on Thursday evening, it was evident that the victory of AAP is certain in this election. On June 26, the EC will formally announce the victory of the AAP.”
He said that like the assembly elections, the AAP will win this election again. The opposition parties, including Congress, Akali Dal and BJP, are out of contention.
Simranjit Singh Mann – president of SAD (Amritsar), who has a house near police lines in Sangrur – had been camping at his house on the polling day. He said, “In the intervening night of Wednesday and Thursday, SAD (Badal) circulated a fake letter saying that we are supporting SAD (Badal) candidate Kamaldeep Kaur Rajoana which showed their insecurity. In the election campaign, Badals kept focusing on me rather than BJP, Congress or AAP. I have got tremendous response from the masses and if voted to power, I will raise the issues of minorities in the Parliament. Minorities need relief and now they ( BJP) are even playing with the armed forces laws (referring to Agnipath). Four years are not enough for military training. No military man can recommend this type of training.”
Gurmeet Singh, a farmer in Banera, said, “It seems that the fight is between AAP and SAD (Amritsar) this time, as we can see polling booths of these parties almost everywhere.”
In Sunam, SAD (Amritsar)’s polling booths had posters of actor Deep Sidhu in the background and their workers had a common slogan – “sword or broom… this is a question of your existence”.
Meanwhile, farm labourers working in paddy fields stated that they were getting only Rs 3,500 per acre whereas they wanted Rs 6,000 per acre as paddy transplantation charges.
“The government did not support us, a few mazdoor unions had protested with us during the poll campaign over this issue and also over the auction of panchayati land reserved for dalits at reasonable prices. Perhaps this anger was also the reason for the low voter turnout,” said Mukesh Malaud, president of Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee, while speaking to The Indian Express.
Meanwhile, BJP candidate Kewal Singh Dhillon objected to Punjab CM’s request to ECI to increase the polling hours by an hour.
Young voters were hardly seen at the polling booths. Interestingly, they were hardly visible during the poll campaign as well.
“Service voters, middle aged and senior citizens were still thinking of giving time to the ruling government, but the youth have gone silent this time,” said Gurdev Singh of Dhuri.
“Sangrur is known for bringing about inquilabs. You never know they may bring out a new inquilab yet again,” said 66-year-old Zora Singh of Sangrur.
In a statement here, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal on Thursday thanked all panthic organizations as well as the cadre of the Bahujan Samaj Party for reaching out to the people in favour of Biba Rajoana. He said the SAD was committed to securing the release of all ‘Bandi Singhs’ who were languishing in prisons even after completion of their jail terms.