Amid stand-off with Ghubaya, Sukhbir Badal opens a line with Rai Sikhs who hold the key

Written by Navjeevan Gopal
| Chandigarh |
Published:December 16, 2016 5:19 am

SAD MP Ghubaya had hoped to trade on his influence among Rai Sikhs in Jalalabad in his recent stand-off with the party leadership over the refusal of Assembly tickets to his family members, but that gambit has not taken him far. (File)

In 2009, he vacated Jalalabad Assembly seat for Sukhbir Badal, helping his debut in state politics. More than seven years later, SAD MP from Ferozepur Sher Singh Ghubaya, who belongs to the powerful Rai Sikh community which is known to tilt the electoral scales in Assembly segments like Jalalabad, Ferozepur, Fazilka and Guru Harsahai, appears to have become irrelevant in his own stronghold. Ghubaya had hoped to trade on his influence among Rai Sikhs in Jalalabad in his recent stand-off with the party leadership over the refusal of Assembly tickets to his family members, but that gambit has not taken him far.

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Sukhbir, who is gearing up for the battle in Jalalabad against AAP heavyweight and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann, is now relying on “direct contact” with the Rai Sikh community, even as the Vigilance Bureau is holding Ghubaya’s feet to the fire with a probe into a complaint of alleged misappropriation of funds meant for Scheduled Castes in a college run by his family. Sukhbir, a senior Akali leader in Malwa said, had made his own team of Rai Sikh leaders in the constituency.

“Ghubaya was considered a leader having sway over Rai Sikh community. But that is a thing of past now. Sukhbir has established direct contact with the Rai Sikh community through their leaders,” said the Akali leader. Ghubaya had demanded a party ticket either for his wife or his son from Fazilka or Ferozepur Rural (SC) constituency and was apparently miffed that party did not consider his demand. Following this, Congress claimed Ghubaya’s son Devinder Singh Ghubaya was joining it. But on the appointed day, the Vigilance Bureau carried out raids on the family-run college and the Congress kept waiting for Devinder.

SAD has already announced sitting Akali MLA from Ferozepur Rural Joginder Singh Jindu as the party candidate for the upcoming elections. Fazilka seat is with BJP under the seat-sharing agreement between the two allies.

“Ghubaya is even asking for Jalalabad, the constituency he quit to pave the way for Sukhbir Badal. But how can deputy CM leave the seat which has become politically very important for party?” said the Akali leader who is close to CM Parkash Singh Badal and the deputy CM.

Maintaining that he continues to be loyal soldier of Akali, Ghubaya has said his family is firm on contesting the upcoming Assembly polls. He has been awaiting a response from Badals on his demand. The last time he met any of the Badals was his “five-minute” meeting with the Chief Minister on December 8 in Chandigarh after the SAD rally at Moga, which Ghubaya did not attend. On Tuesday, when asked about his future course of action, Ghubaya said, “I do not want to comment now. I am in Delhi in connection with Parliament session. I will meet my supporters after I come back after December 16 and only after that will I be in a position to say anything.”

After being named as party candidate from Jalalabad, Mann was quick to take a jibe at Sukhbir, saying the deputy CM wanted to “run away from Jalalabad” while referring to the delay in declaring Sukhbir as SAD nominee for the seat. Sukhbir returned the jibe saying Mann would end up forfeiting his security deposit.

Though SAD is yet to formally announce its candidate from Jalalabad, leaders from the ruling party as well as opposition Congress are certain that Sukhbir’s candidature from the constituency was a foregone conclusion. Akali MP in Rajya Sabha Naresh Gujral dismissed the jibe that Sukhbir wanted to “run away from Jalalabad”. “Question does not arise,” he said.

SAD spokesperson and minister Daljit Singh Cheema said, “Though a formal announcement is yet to be made, we firmly stand there (Datt ke khare haan). Moreover, Sukhbir [as SAD president] has to [symbolically] contest from all the 117 Assembly segments,” he said. “Everything is fine as far as Ghubaya is concerned. The other day I was with him, there are no differences.”

Sunil Jakhar, Congress MLA from Abohar and former leader of opposition in the Vidhan Sabha said, “Sukhbir Badal is on a slippery wicket in Jalalabad. Not because of Bhagwant Mann, but with Rai Sikh community that elected him from the constituency feeling disillusioned and humiliated. He, however, cannot pull out from Jalalabad. If he does, it will send a very wrong signal that SAD has conceded defeat even before going to polls. Badals are seasoned enough to know that.”

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