Saturday, February 26, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Kariha wrecks Cong bastion
From Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service

NAWANSHAHR, Feb 25—The ruling SAD-BJP combine candidate, Mr Jatinder Singh Kariha, had a landslide victory in the prestigious Nawanshahr byelection. He defeated his nearest rival Congress candidate, Mr Parkash Singh Nawanshahr, with a huge margin of 26511 votes.

It is for the second time that the SAD has regained the seat, considered a stronghold of the Congress, this time after a gap of 20 years. Mr Kariha had won the seat during the 1977 anti-Congress wave.

Mr Kariha secured 59533 votes. Mr Parkash Singh was placed second with 33022 votes out of the 106294 votes polled. The Bahujan Samaj Party candidate, Mr Darshan Lal Jethumajra, who had polled more than 26,000 votes in the 1997 Assembly elections, lost a major chunk of his votebank this time. He was able to get just 11294 votes.

What turned out to be a surprise for poll pundits was the poor performance of the Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal led by Mr Gurcharan Singh Tohra. Its candidate, Mr Nachattar Singh, was placed fourth. He lost his security deposit as he was able to get just 484 votes.

Mr Parkash Singh could not secure a lead in any of the 12 rounds of counting. Mr Kariha, disheartened his rivals registering a lead in every round soon as the counting of votes took off at Arya College here at 8 a.m. In the very first round, of the total 8339 votes, Mr Kariha secured 4294 against 3189 votes polled by his rival.

Similarly, in the fourth round Mr Kariha got 5854 votes while Mr Parkash Singh got 2889. In the last round, of the 8449 votes, Mr Kariha polled 4910 as against 2351 votes by Mr Parkash Singh.

The poll results were declared by the Returning Officer at 10. 15 a.m. This was possible due to counting through electronic voting machines.

While the trends which started pouring in as soon as counting for the first round was over at around 8.30 a.m. brought cheer in the Akali-BJP camp, Congressmen, began deserting the counting centre. They had closed down their election office before the result was officially declared.

Though the scene at Akali-BJP office was devoid of enthusiasm, Akali workers and leaders were seen congratulating one another amidst beating of drums. The expected jubilation was missing even during the victory procession led by Mr Kariha who went door to door expressing gratitude to the people with folded hands.

Except for small groups of supporters who raised slogans, he was not accompanied by any senior SAD or BJP leader. Mr Badal was also not present.

Talking to TNS, Mr Kariha described the poll results as victory of SAD chief Parkash Singh Badal and a ‘‘proof’’ of his being a grassroots leader. ‘‘People have realised that money and muscle power, as had been exhibited by the Congress in the past, cannot ensure development of the area,’’ he said.

Enlisting his future plans, Mr Kariha said he would leave no stone unturned for the all-round development of the town and his government would convert Nawanshahr into a ‘‘model district’’.

He said his priority would be to solve drinking water and sewerage problems and speedy implementation of development schemes. ‘‘We will finalise these schemes within three months. The four-laning of the Ropar-Phagwara road will be the main task before me,’’ he said.

Mr Parkash Singh said his defeat was the outcome of ‘‘rigging’’, ‘‘poll malpractices’’ and ‘‘misuse of official machinery’’ by the Akali-BJP government.

He said factionalism in his party could also be one of the reasons for the defeat.

UNI, PTI add: While the Congress was able to maintain its votebank, the Dalit votebank of the BSP seems to have shifted in a big way towards the Akali Dal.

Mr Darshan Lal Jethumajara of the BSP was able to secure 11,500 votes this time as against 25643 votes polled by him in 1997. His share of votes was also much less than the 17399 votes polled by BSP candidate Avinash Chander in the Nawanshahr segment of the Phillaur Lok Sabha constituency in September last.

Nawanshahr is in the heartland of the Doaba region where the party was launched by BSP supremo Kanshi Ram in the eighties. It was able to make deep inroads into the Congress Dalit votebank in the 1985 without Assembly elections when it first entered the poll fray in Punjab without its election symbol — elephant.

If the Nawanshahr byelection result is considered to be a big blow to the BSP in its stronghold of Doaba, the election outcome has virtually sounded the deathknell of the fledging Sarb Hind Shiromani Akali Dal (SHSAD) of former SGPC chief G.S. Tohra who floated the outfit in May last year after parting company with the ruling Akali Dal. The SHSAD candidate, Mr Nachattar Singh, could poll only 483 votes and lost his security deposit.

However, the Congress votebank has by and large remained intact in Nawanshahr. Mr Channi had polled 32942 votes in 1997, while Congress Lok Sabha winner from Phillaur Santosh Choudhary had polled 34,492 votes in the Nawanshahr segment last year. Mr Parkash Singh has secured 32,896 votes.

Mr Kariha’s victory by a huge margin surprised most poll pundits who had predicted a narrow win. The outcome is likely to help Mr Badal snuff out opposition from within the SAD and strengthen him against the Congress which was looking resurgent after its good show in the last Lok Sabha poll.

Punjab Revenue Minister Sewa Singh Sekhwan said in Jalandhar that the ruling Akali Dal’s victory in Nawanshahr had once again established that Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal was ‘‘an authentic Punjabi leader’’.

Akali Dal (Democratic) President Kuldip Singh Wadala claimed that the Nawanshahr outcome had established his party was a key player in Doaba. ‘‘When we opposed the Akali Dal in the Adampur Assembly byelection and in the Lok Sabha elections, the Dal got a drubbing. But now when we supported Mr Kariha, the Akali candidate won with a handsome victory’’.

Punjab Food and Civil Supplies Minister Madan Mohan Mittal said in Phagwara that the people had ‘‘outrightly rejected the selfish, and anti-people policies of the Congress.’’

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