Chandigarh (PTI): The ruling Congress on Thursday wrested the Shahkot Assembly seat by handing out a crushing defeat to the Shiromani Akali Dal with party candidate Hardev Singh Ladi trouncing rival SAD’s Naib Singh Kohar by 38,802 votes.
With this resounding victory, the Congress’s strength in the 117-member Punjab Vidhan Sabha will reach 78, a two-thirds majority.
Ladi got 82,747 votes to Akali candidate Naib Singh Kohar’s 43,945, an official spokesman of the election office said.
Shahkot was considered an Akali Dal pocket-borough from where late Ajit Singh Kohar was elected five-times in a row.
The performance of the main opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Shahkot bypoll was dismal as its candidate Rattan Singh Kakkar Kalan secured just 1,900 votes.
The bypoll was necessitated by the death of Ajit Singh Kohar, Naib Singh Kohar’s father, in February this year.
The contest was being seen as a test of the popularity of the 14-month-old Congress government in the state. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh hailed the victory as a “vindication of the government’s people-centric policies”.
“People of #Shahkot have given a massive thumbs up to @INCPunjab govt’s development policies. @Akali_Dal_ never worked for Shahkot even though the people gave them many opportunities. @AAPPunjab decimation will be complete with this humiliating defeat,” Amarinder Singh tweeted.
With Congress wresting the Akali bastion, the party’s the winning momentum after putting up a stellar performance in the 2017 Punjab assembly elections and Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll continues.
Congress had stormed to power in March this year by winning 77 seats of the 117-assembly seats-on the back of poll promises like farm debt waiver and free smartphones.
Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar said people had again reposed faith in the Congress government under the leadership of Amarinder Singh. The Gurdaspur MP also raised questions over the leadership of SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal.
“Akali Dal has been winning the Shahkot Assembly Constituency for the last 20 years. Now, a question arises that Akali Dal will have to see whether they will accept the leadership of Sukhbir Badal. Akali Dal has faced humiliating defeats consistently, be it Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll, today Shahkot bypoll and civic polls,” said Jakhar.
The people of Shahkot have answered the arrogance of Akali Dal and its leadership, he claimed.
Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu took a dig at Sukhbir Badal and his brother-in-law and former minister Bikram Singh Majithia, saying the defeat of Akali Dal was imminent wherever the two were present. They should retire and sit at home, Sidhu said taking a swipe.
Another Punjab minister, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, said the party was sure of the victory in Akali stronghold.
Celebrations broke out at Congress Bhawan in Chandigarh while in Jalandhar party leaders and workers were distributing sweets and performing ‘Bhangra’ to drumbeats.
Akali candidate Naib Singh Kohar alleged EVMs were rigged. “EVMs were tampered. Even as counting took place before me, but machines were not fine, then what counting will do? There was not even a single booth from where I gained. Therefore, machines were rigged,” he alleged.
A visibly upset Naib Singh Kohar had left the counting place midway.
The defeat for Akali Dal in its bastion came as a “setback” as SAD chief Sukhbir Badal had taken charge of the poll campaign and held several meetings before the bypoll.
The bypoll was also being seen as a barometer for the popularity of the 14-month-old Congress government of Amarinder Singh.
A total 1,32,385 valid votes were polled in the bypoll, including 1,268 for the None of the Above (NOTA) option. Six votes were rejected, said the spokesman of the election office.
As many as 76.60 per cent of 1,72,676 voters exercised their franchise for the Shahkot Assembly bypoll on May 28.
Ladi maintained the lead from the start of the counting process.
The Congress had won 77 seats in the 117-member Punjab Vidhan Sabha during 2017 Assembly polls while the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance managed to win 18 seats. The AAP won 20 seats while Lok Insaf Party had bagged two seats.