Why Batala matters in Punjab’s political battlefield
As the Punjab heads for the Assembly elections, the state’s border town, Batala, has made the headlines. Immediately after being elevated to the first place, the new Chief Minister of Punjab, Charanjit Singh Channi, rescinded the last appointments to the posts of the heads of the Batala Market Committee and the Batala Improvement Trust — Channi’s predecessor, Amarinder Singh , had appointed Gurinder Singh and Pawan Kumar Pamma to these posts on August 31, replacing the assistants of Minister Tript Rajinder Bajwa Rajinder Singh and Kastoori Lal. Channi’s reinstatement of previous posts is seen as an attempt to mend ties with Bajwa.
Bajwa, a lawmaker from Fatehgarh Churian, has fallen out with his former mentor Amarinder Singh for the past six months. There is a strong buzz that he wants to move to an urban constituency to avoid the anti-incumbent of his assembly seat. Amarinder Singh is said to have accused him of “treason”, and in his last days as chief minister, he teamed up with his former pet peeve and Rajya Sabha’s deputy, Pratap Singh Bajwa, to teach a lesson at first.
The Bajwa families have been rivals for years. They are both based in Qadian in Gurdaspur district, having moved from Sialkot after the partition. Previously, Pratap’s father, Satnam Singh Bajwa, and Tript Rajinder Bajwa’s father, Gurbachan Bajwa, clashed to gain influence in the region. During his career, Tript Bajwa contested the assembly segments of Qadian, Hargobindpur and Fatehgarh Churian in Gurdaspur district. Meanwhile, Pratap Bajwa won the legislative elections of 1992, 2002 and 2007 for the Kanuwan assembly segment.
During the 2012 demarcation exercise, 29 villages in Qadian were moved to the Batala staging segment, 103 panchayats attached to the adjacent Fatehgarh Churian and 30 villages under Kahnuwan were clubbed with Batala. This accelerated the unrest between the two families. Pratap Bajwa’s brother, Fateh Jung Bajwa is Qadian lawmaker. Pratap Bajwa had been deputy for Lok Sabha of Gurdaspur from 2009 to 2014. Having lost the elections in the legislative elections of 2014, he remained largely isolated from the regime of Amarinder Singh. He wishes to return to the State Assembly, declaring that he would run for election to the Assembly from Gurdaspur, eyeing in particular Batla. The appointment of his followers to the Batla Market Committee and the Improvement Trust was therefore crucial – over the past three weeks, Gurinder and Pamma had organized programs to mobilize support for him. On the other hand, Tript Rajinder Bajwa sided with Navjot Sidhu and, along with Channi, Sukhjinder Randhawa and Sukhbinder Salaria, pushed for the removal of Amarinder Singh as chief minister. The reinstatement of Channi employees is seen in this context as a reward.
However, this is not just a fight between the two Bajwa houses for the congressional nomination. Three-time MP Ashwani Sekhri is also a strong advocate. In 2017, he lost to Akali Dal’s Lakhbir Singh Lodhinangal, but with a margin of less than 500 votes. The 15th-century industrial city, Batala, perhaps the oldest in modern Punjab, is pivotal in Sikh history. It is believed to be the hometown of Sulakhni Devi, the wife of the founder of Sikhism. Their marriage was celebrated here in 1485. The city, on the highway from Amritsar to Pathankot in the Majha region, has more than 56% Hindu voters. . Traditionally, the headquarters has been a stronghold of the BJP and has always seen close competition with Congress. Before Ashwani Sekhri, his father Vishwa Miter Sekhri had represented the party headquarters. This time, Sekhri is also preparing for the BJP as well as the Akali Dal to weigh the odds, amid the battle of the Bajwa houses, if the ticket is refused.
In 2012, the BJP traded that seat with Ludhiana West with Akali Dal to curb Jagdish Sahni’s rebellion against then-BJP pillar Vinod Khanna. This time the Akali Dal has no alliance with the BJP. And these three congressional leaders see the votes of these two blocs dividing and feel they can have a fair chance to get through. Batala, with a large Hindu population, does not have much impact on the ongoing agricultural turmoil.
Meanwhile, for Congress, Pratap Bajwa increases his stake on the seat. He had jumped on the renegade ship to mend with Amarinder Singh to consolidate his position in that constituency as two of his biggest rivals Tript Bajwa and Randhawa became crucial commanders of the new dispensation. Over the past three weeks, along with his assistants there, he had started to be invited to chair programs and connect with locals. But now Channi has put the key in the works. With Tript Rajinder Bajwa’s assistants back in their seats, they target Pratap Bajwa more than Akali Dal or BJP.