‘Bandi Singhs’: SAD’s one-note pitch in Sangrur bypoll fray

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The release of “Bandi Singhs (Sikh prisoners)”, who have been languishing in various jails for many years, is the sole campaign issue of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) in the June 23 Sangrur Lok Sabha seat bypoll.

Despite the prevalence of a range of issues, from development to ongoing protests by several bodies over various matters, in their bypoll campaign the SAD leaders, including the party’s Sangrur candidate Kamaldeep Kaur Rajoana and its president Sukhbir Singh Badal, have chosen to focus on the Bandi Singh plank.

The Sangrur bypoll has been necessitated by the resignation of the incumbent AAP MP Bhagwant Mann after he became the Punjab Chief Minister in March. An AAP stronghold, the Sangrur parliamentary constituency has nine Vidhan Sabha segments.

Kamaldeep is the sister of Balwant Singh Rajoana, who is a convict in the assassination of former Punjab CM Beant Singh. He has been lodged in the Patiala jail.

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When asked why the SAD has been campaigning on a single issue, Kamaldeep said, ”In this bypoll, our fight is against injustice. No doubt, there are many other issues as well… but we are taking this plank to people of all religions as it is a fight for all those who have been languishing in jails even after completing their terms – my brother Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana is one among them.”

The SAD is however also drawing criticism on social media, with questions being raised why the party did not wake up to this issue when it had been running the Punjab government in alliance with the BJP during 2007-2017 besides being part of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre from 2014 to 2021. Kamaldeep said, “Akal Takht has sent a clear message that panthic organisations should field someone from the families of Bandi Singhs for this bypoll. So we are abiding by the Akal Takht’s order. Never ever before have we united to fight for this cause in a poll.”

In his election rallies, Sukhbir has been saying that “SAD has always stood in solidarity with Sikh detenus. Parkash Singh Badal took a firm stand as chief minister and prevented Balwant Singh Rajoana from being hanged. Similarly, the SAD played the main role in getting the sentence of Devinderpal Singh Bhullar commuted and in ensuring his parole.”

The SAD’s campaign posters feature a Kamaldeep picture along with images of Rajoana behind the bars and a hanging rope around his face, carrying a message from the bypoll candidate saying “My brother Rajoana has been lodged in jail for 25 years, 30 years, 32 years… need to be freed… also need to be freed from the rope”.

Sukhbir said, “It was decided by SAD-BSP and all panthic organisations that only issue of freedom for Bandi Singhs should be highlighted in the posters. This was the reason that only Kamaldeep and Rajoana’s pictures are seen on the posters,” adding “A vote for Biba Kamaldeep Kaur Rajoana is a vote to free all Bandi Singhs who are in jail even after completion of their life sentences.”

The SAD is also raking up the point that despite the appeals made by the party and the SGPC to the SAD (Amritsar) president and Sangrur candidate, Simranjit Singh Mann, urging him to withdraw from the fray in favour of Rajoana’s sister, Mann has refused to do so. “It seems this bypoll is more about SAD (Badal) versus SAD ( Amritsar) than any other issue,” said a local resident.

On Monday, Sukhbir also went after the CM, accusing the latter of “abandoning the people of Sangrur, turning a blind eye to its development and subletting Punjab governance to Delhi CM and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal”.

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