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Lok Sabha Election: Battle of Bathinda Is About 2 Old & Bitter Feuds. Here's How

The ongoing Lok Sabha election in Bathinda has become the battleground for the revival of old and bitter feuds.

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Elections
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From the tales of Jeona Maurh to Sidhu Moose Wala's songs, the themes of rebellion and revenge are integral to the landscape of Punjab's Malwa region. It is no surprise that these themes also run deep in the politics of Malwa. This is especially the case in Bathinda that lies in the heart of Malwa.

The ongoing Lok Sabha election in Bathinda has become the battleground for the revival of old and bitter feuds that are much deeper than political rivalries. These are the candidates in the fray:

  • Harsimrat Kaur Badal: Three-time MP, former Union Minister and daughter-in-law of Late Akali Dal patriarch, Parkash Singh Badal.

  • Gurmeet Singh Khuddian: Minister in the Punjab government, AAP MLA from Lambi who defeated Parkash Singh Badal in 2022 state polls.

  • Jeet Mohinder Singh Sidhu: Former SAD MLA, now Congress candidate from Bathinda Lok Sabha seat.

  • Parampal Kaur: Punjab bureaucrat who recently resigned from service to join BJP and daughter of Akali Dal (Badal) strongman in Bathinda district - Sikander Singh Maluka.

  • Lakha Sidhana: Gangster-turned-activist and politician, now SAD (Amritsar) candidate from Bathinda.

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The Context

This is the home turf of the Badal family. Badal village - where the family hails from - falls in Lambi tehsil of Sri Muktsar Sahib district. It comes under the Bathinda Lok Sabha constituency. The Badal family, and by extension the Akali Dal, have dominated politics in Bathinda and adjoining areas.

In the last 40 years, one or the other faction of the Akali Dal has won Bathinda Lok Sabha seat eight out of 10 times. They have lost the seat only twice in this period. Once at the hands of the Congress in 1991, an election whose fairness is disputed as it was boycotted by most Akali factions. The second was in the anti-SAD wave in 1999 at the hands of the Communists who were being backed by the Congress.

The SAD's hegemony in the area is such that each of the five main candidates in the fray this time have had an association with the Akali Dal at some point of time or the other.

The Akalis have dominated this area with an iron fist and their rivals have often accused them of using intimidation and even violence to maintain their hold. In this election, there are two major feuds that are in play, both going back to different phases of SAD (Badal)'s dominance in the region.

Gurmeet Khuddian's Fight Against Badals

Gurmeet Khuddian is the son of Jathedar Jagdev Singh Khuddian, who was the Member of Parliament from Faridkot in 1989. He won on the ticket of Simranjit Singh Mann's Shiromani Akali Dal faction. that performed very well in that election.

Jagdev Khuddian, a respected leader at that time, mysteriously went missing barely a month after being elected MP. Six days later, his body was found in the Rajasthan Feeder Canal. The police at that time claimed that it was death by suicide. But an inquiry by judge Harbans Singh Rai said that "He had been killed".

His son Gurmeet Khuddian and party chief Simranjit Singh Mann both alleged foul play and claimed that the MP was facing threats from "political rivals". One of the rivals that the Mann group pointed fingers towards was the Badal faction of the SAD.

Like many other target killings and enforced disappearances in Punjab in that period, the mystery behind Jagdev Khuddian's murder was never solved.

However, it placed Gurmeet Khuddian's trajectory firmly against the Badals - first in Simranjit Mann's SAD, then the Congress, and finally AAP.

Khuddian finally got the victory he had been working towards, in the 2022 Assembly elections when he defeated Parkash Singh Badal from the latter's pocket-borough Lambi. It also turned out to be Badal's last election before his demise in 2023.

The ongoing Lok Sabha election in Bathinda has become the battleground for the revival of old and bitter feuds.

Jagdev Singh Khuddian (in Kurta), father of Gurmeet Singh Khuddian. 

(Gurmeet Khuddian Facebook Page)

This time Khuddian is up against Badal's daughter-in-law Harsimrat Kaur. The political prestige of party chief Sukhbir Badal, also Harsimrat's husband, is at stake in this election.

A defeat in Bathinda would raise questions over his ability to lead the SAD, which is India's second oldest political party.

While Khuddian doesn't have much to lose, a win would bring him another step closer to bringing about the political end of the Badals.

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Lakha Sidhana's Feud With Sikander Singh Maluka

If Gurmeet Khuddian's rivalry with the Badals began in a phase when the latter were trying to edge out other factions within the Akali Dal, Lakha Sidhana's feud is from about two decades later - a period where the Badals had become the first family of Punjab politics and SAD the default ruling party of Punjab.

Hailing from Sidhana village near Rampura Phul in Bathinda district, Lakhvir Singh aka Lakha Sidhana is said to have entered the world of crime in the early 2000s. Sidhana blames SAD strongman from Bathinda district - Sikander Singh Maluka - for making him a gangster. "I won't have gone deep into the world of crime had I not come under the influence of Maluka. Maluka assured me that I have his backing," Sidhana claimed in an interview to Akaal Channel in 2018.

He claimed in the same interview that from "getting votes cast" to criminal activities, he did a lot of "tasks" at Maluka's behest in that period and that after him a number of others were made to do the same.

In a number of public statements, Lakha Sidhana has accused Sikander Maluka of pushing youth towards crime, using them for his political benefit and then getting them arrested under "false cases" once their utility was over. Maluka has denied these allegations.

Sidhana contested against Maluka from the Rampura Phul constituency in 2012 as a candidate of Manpreet Badal's newly formed Punjab People's Party but lost badly.

In May 2013, there was a violent attack on Sidhana at a political meeting near Rampura Phul, in which one person was killed. However, Sidhana escaped. Both Lakha Sidhana and the Congress blamed Maluka for the attack, a claim which Maluka denied and instead blamed the Congress.

The ongoing Lok Sabha election in Bathinda has become the battleground for the revival of old and bitter feuds.

(Sikander Singh Maluka with Sukhbir Badal)

(Sikander Singh Maluka Facebook Page)

Sidhana and Maluka almost ended up squaring off during the 2022 Assembly elections. Sidhana was contesting from Maur constituency in Bathinda district as a candidate of the Sanyukt Samaj Morcha formed by farm unions. Maluka was extremely keen on shifting from Rampura Phul to Maur but this was shot down by Sukhbir Badal, who fielded Jagmeet Brar from Maur instead. Eventually AAP won the seat and Sidhana came second, ahead of SAD's Brar.

In this election, Sidhana is up against Maluka's party SAD as well as his daughter Parampal Kaur, who is contesting on a BJP ticket.

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Where Does the Battle Stand?

On the ground in Bathinda, SAD cadres claim that all the "Delhi parties" have come together to corner the Akali Dal.

"Akali Dal is the only Punjab-centric party that's why the Delhi parties want to finish it. All three of them (AAP, Congress and BJP) are helping each other in the seat (Bathinda)," an SAD functionary told The Quint.

The allegation is that both Congress and BJP have fielded candidates with SAD connections to try and eat into Harsimrat Kaur's votes.

As far as the Congress is concerned, questions were indeed raised when the Bathinda ticket went to Jeet Mohinder Sidhu. It was initially expected that Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring or his wife Amrita Warring will contest from the seat. Given the tough fight Raja Warring gave Harsimrat Kaur in 2019 - he was just 2 percentage points behind SAD - it would have been an obvious choice.

The other option under consideration was to field Sidhu Moose Wala's father Balkaur Singh as an Independent. But he is said to have declined.

When Congress fielded Jeet Mohinder Singh Sidhu, many SAD supporters accused it of trying to help AAP's Gurmeet Khuddian.

BJP insiders say that its decision to field Maluka's daughter Parampal Kaur was a "tit-for-tat move" against Sukhbir Badal after he fielded former BJP MLA Anil Joshi against BJP's Taranjit Sandhu in Amritsar. Sandhu, a former ambassador, is said to be PM Modi's handpicked nominee. SAD fielding a popular Hindu leader was seen as a move to destroy Sandhu's chances.

Parampal Kaur's entry made things complicated for Maluka in SAD. Sukhbir Badal removed him as the Halqa (constituency) in-charge for Maur. He stayed away from campaigning in both Rampura Phul or Maur for several weeks, though he has been saying that he is firmly with the Akali Dal.

The overall impact of this was to make the SAD feel even more cornered. There is a clear sense in the party that their citadel is under siege from all sides.

Similarly, SAD sees Sidhana as someone who is creating a lot of noise against the AAP government and splitting anti-AAP votes in rural areas.

Despite being the sitting MP from Firozpur, Sukhbir Badal has opted not to contest this time and he is said to be attaching special focus to ensuring Harsimrat Kaur's victory in Bathinda.

The seat has become a prestige battle for the Sukhbir Badal and his political survival may be at stake. A defeat in Bathinda will embolden the anti-Sukhbir elements within the SAD as well as competing forces in the Panthic space such as Simranjit Singh Mann and Amritpal Singh. If Harsimrat wins, Sukhbir Badal will get to claim that he avenged his late father's last defeat.

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