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Phagwara by-poll to witness pitched battle between Cong, BJP

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: October 12, 2019  | 16:41 IST

Phagwara, Oct 12 (PTI) The Phagwara reserved Assembly constituency is all set to witness an intense election battle between the Congress and the BJP with polling scheduled to be held on October 21. In the 14 elections here between 1957 and 2017, the Congress has won eight times, the BJP emerged victorious on four occasions while an Independent and a Janata Party candidate won the seat once each. The by-poll was necessitated after the resignation of BJP MLA Som Parkash who was elected to the Lok Sabha in the 2019 general elections. This is the first ever by-poll in the constituency since 1957. The Congress is putting up a united show after all its factions buried their hatchet following intervention from party bigwigs and announced the candidature of bureaucrat-turned-politician Balwinder Singh from the seat on September 23. While the BJP, plagued by factionalism, declared Rajesh Bagha, former Chairman of the state SC/ST Commission its candidate from the seat almost a week later on September 29, just a day before the last date of filing of nomination papers. The saffron party is now going all out in its election campaigning to make up for the lost time and is roping in Hindi and Bhojpuri film stars to woo the voters. The Congress has this time preferred a non-political face in Dhaliwal, ignoring claims of three-time Phagwara MLA Joginder Singh Mann and district Congress chief Balbir Rani Sodhi. By fielding Bagha, the BJP too has given preference to a political novice over seasoned leader like Aneeta Som Parkash, wife of Union minister Som Parkash, a two-time MLA from Phagwara and Sahil Sampla, son of former Union minister Vijay Sampla. In a setback to the BJP, however, six of its councillors and several other senior leaders had joined the Congress recently. Besides Dhaliwal and Bagha, Thekedar Bhagwan Das Sidhu of BSP-Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA), Jarnail Nangal of Lok Insaaf Party (LIP), Santosh Kumar Gogi of AAP are also contesting from the seat. There are total nine candidates in the fray. While the residents of Phagwara are demanding district status for the constituency in addition to setting up of an AIIMS and other developmental projects, the political leaders are busy indulging in blame game. In its rallies and public meetings, the Congress leaders have been blaming the decade-long "misrule" of the previous SAD-BJP alliance government for all the ills ailing Punjab. The SAD-BJP leaders, however, are alleging that the Congress, which is now in power in the state, has "failed terribly" to fulfil its pre-poll promises. If Congress blames the Badals for the drug menace in Punjab, the SAD-BJP hits back at Chief Minister Amarinder Singh for failing to fulfil his promise of wiping out drugs within four weeks of coming to power. Religious and sensitive issues including the 1984 Operation Blue Star, Sikh genocide, demolition of Guru Ravidas temple in New Delhi, desecration of Guru Granth Sahib, Behbal Kalan/Bargari firing incidents are being raked up by the leaders. When it comes to their poll manifesto, Congress' Dhaliwal and BSP's Sidhu have promise a government college in Phagwara, while the BJP-SAD nominee Bagha has assured "accelerated development". LIP's firebrand leader Nangal has been raising the isseu of education for poor people and AAP's Santosh Kumar Gogi, while claiming to change the system, calls his party the only genuine third alternative to the ruling Congress and SAD-BJP combine which he alleged were "fighting a friendly match". Some leaders are also raising issues of stray cattle destroying farmers crops and causing road accidents, the need for modern hospitals, rising unemployment and corruption among others. In some areas, reports of agitated youth confronting candidates with the issue of growing unemployment have also been reported. Phagwara SDM and Returning Officer Latif Ahmed said that there are 1,84,903 voters in Phagwara and 220 polling booths have been set up for the by-poll. Kapurthala SSP Satinder Singh said that 60 polling stations have been declared sensitive. PTI COR VSD RHL

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