Jakhar Jr Aims to Repeat Father's Feat in Akali Stronghold
Congress nominee Sunil Jakhar, son of ex-Union minister Balram Jakhar, is hoping to revive the charisma of his illustrious father who in 1980 broke the tradition of Jat Sikhs or Rai Sikhs representing this Akali bastion on the banks of the historic Sutlej river.
Jakhar is up against 14 rivals, including 51-year-old sitting MP Sher Singh Ghubaya, hailing from the Rai Sikh community, Satnam Paul Kamboj (AAP), Ram Kumar Parjapat (BSP) and former MP Dhian Singh Mand contesting on a SAD(A) ticket.
Though the fight for this seat is a direct contest between SAD and Congress, political observers say Kamboj and Parjapat could be key players in the April 30 polls.
Having borne the brunt of the partition and two India- Pakistan wars, the residents of this region are battle hardened and major issues of this district include opening of the Hussainiwala-Lahore border for trade and transit.
The constituency, which shares an over 200-km-long border with Pakistan, has seen caste factor always playing an important role in determining the outcome of an election.
Rai Sikhs are most predominant followed by Kumhars, Jat Sikhs, Kambojs, Hindus and Ramgarhais in this seat of over 13 lakh electors.
Jakhar, who happens to be Congress Legislature Party chief and sitting MLA from Abohar, had unsuccessfully contested this seat earlier in 1996 when he lost to Mohan Singh Phalianwala of BSP by 59,912 votes.
The 60-year-old 'agriculturist' Jakhar, who has an MBA from Kurukshetra University, will be looking at his 90-year- old father for inspiration who, 34 years ago, defeated SAD's Iqbal Singh by a colossal margin of 1,94,214 votes.
In the nine Assembly segments under this seat, four are represented by Congress MLAs while the rest have SAD-BJP legislators.
Although, the functioning of Congress has been marred by internal strife which has contributed to its defeats since 1985 when Gurdial Singh Dhillon beat Inderjit Singh of SAD by a margin of 43,356 votes, most of its leaders have put up an united front in favour of Jakhar this time.
Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi, a three-time MLA from Guruharsahai, had openly expressed his displeasure over denial of ticket to him, but he has now extended unconditional support to Jakhar amid reports of seemingly simmering discontent.
Sodhi enjoys considerable clout among all communities, including Rai Sikhs, in this region.
Meanwhile, for Ghubaya, the dissidence within SAD-BJP is also a matter of concern. One of the former BJP MLAs from Firozpur had openly aired his resentment against Ghubaya, which had even led to a delay in the announcement of his nomination.
Ghubaya's differences with some other SAD leaders, including Vardev Singh Mann (Halka in-charge from Guruharsahai), could also have an impact, though Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has been trying to pacify anti- Ghubaya forces.
Further, dissidence among the leaders belonging to the coalition partner BJP in places like Abohar, Fazilka and Firozpur may also prove to be a spoilsport for the sitting MP who is facing 'anti-incumbency' factor as well, say analysts.
In 1989, Dhian Singh Mand was elected from this constituency as an Independent after defeating Jagmeet Singh Brar of Congress by 32,850 votes.
Afterwards, in the next two elections in 1992 and 1996, this seat was wrestled by 'Rai Sikh' Mohan Singh Phalianwala of BSP who defeated his nearest rivals Santokh Singh and Sunil Jakhar, both from Congress, by a margin of 1,296 and 59,921 votes, respectively.
Thereafter, BSP could not continue its winning streak and its candidates did not win all subsequent elections.
In 1998, the SAD gave the ticket to its veteran, Zora Singh Mann, a Jat Sikh who won by a margin of 44,467 votes.
Once a "gunman" and close confidant of Chief Minister Parkash Badal, Mann thereafter did not look back and won this seat in 1999 and 2004, completing a hat-trick.
However, thereafter Mann developed differences with the party leadership over allocation of Assembly ticket to his bete noire Ghubaya from Jalalabad.
Thereafter, in 2009, the SAD playing a caste card allocated the Lok Sabha ticket to Ghubaya who defeated firebrand Congress Leader Jagmeet Singh Brar by 21,071 votes.