The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) faced a huge defeat in the Punjab by-elections on Sunday, with the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) candidate Simranjit Singh Mann defeating the ruling party’s candidate on a Lok Sabha seat held last by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann.
Simranjit Singh Mann beat his AAP rival Gurmail Singh by a margin of over 5,800 votes from the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat, after a close fight between the two.
The 77-year-old is a former MP and the president of Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) – not related to the larger Shiromani Akali Dal. He was last elected from the same seat in 1999.
“My priority will be to raise the issue of the poor economic condition of Sangrur including the condition of farmers under debt. We will work with the Punjab government,” Mr Mann said after his win.
His election was seen by some as an endorsement for Punjab’s hard-line religious “Panthic” politics that gained prominence at the height of the militancy in the state and was on the decline over the last two decades.
Simranjit Singh Mann also had the backing of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moose Wala who was shot dead by gangsters last month.
The bypoll to Sangrur Lok Sabha seat had witnessed a low turnout of 45.30 per cent as against 72.44 per cent polling in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and 76.71 per cent in 2014 polls – a factor that the AAP blamed for their loss. There were 15.69 lakh eligible voters this time.
Sixteen candidates had appeared for the contest on June 23. Congress’s Dalvir Singh Goldy, BJP’s Kewal Dhillon and the Akali Dal’s Kamaldeep Kaur Rajoana were at the third, fourth and fifth spots, respectively in the results.
The bypoll was necessitated due to the resignation of Bhagwant Mann from the Lok Sabha seat after he was elected as an MLA in the state assembly elections earlier this year.
Bhagwant Mann had won the Sangrur seat in the 2014 and 2019 parliamentary elections, managing to hold off a nationwide by the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The bypoll was the first major electoral battle after the Aam Aadmi Party’s resounding victory in the state assembly polls in March this year.
For the ruling AAP, the bypoll was seen as a battle of prestige for retaining its bastion, while for opposition parties Congress, BJP and SAD were looking to register a victory after being decimated in the assembly polls.
The AAP fielded Singh, 38, who is the party’s Sangrur district in-charge, while the Congress placed its bet on former Dhuri MLA Goldy.
The BJP fielded former Barnala MLA Dhillon who joined the party early this month.
Sangrur parliamentary constituency is considered the bastion of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which won all the nine assembly segments — Lehra, Dirba, Barnala, Sunam, Bhadaur, Mehal Kalan, Malerkotla, Dhuri and Sangrur in the 2022 assembly elections.
Bhagwant Mann had won the Sangrur seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls after defeating SAD candidate Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa with a margin of 2.11 lakh votes.
Mr Mann again contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Sangrur and won it by a margin of 1.10 lakh votes after defeating the Congress party’s Kewal Dhillon.
While the opposition parties – Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP – assailed the AAP for an alleged deteriorating law and order situation, the murder of Sidhu Moose Wala and “unfulfilled” poll promises, the ruling party focused on its promises of eradicating corruption, creating jobs, improving the condition of schools and hospitals, and paving the way for a “Rangla (vibrant) Punjab” again.