For Malkiat & Josan, the die is cast

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Cong candidate counting on Rai Sikh votes; party rebel says he has support of Kamboj community.

Most people in Jalalabad assembly segment are watching the contest between rebel candidate and former Congress minister Hans Raj Josan and official Congress candidate Malkiat Singh with more interest than that between Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and his key rivals.

The talk of the town is as to who between the two-Josan and Malkiat-will poll more votes. With caste a key factor in this constituency, both the candidates are banking on votes from their respective communities.

Hurt at being denied the party ticket in this primarily Rai Sikh-dominated area, Josan decided to enter the fray hoping to get the support of the Kamboj community, to which he belongs.The Kamboj votes number 25,000 here. “The party (Congress) made me a scapegoat by asking me to contest against Sukhbir Badal in the byelection, knowing well that he was sure to win. I have worked very hard in the area in the past two years and the people will definitely vote for me,” he says, as he flits from one public meeting to another.

On the other hand, Malkiat Singh is counting on the Rai Sikh votes (60,000 of a total of 1.66 lakh). “The Congress has given the ticket to a Rai Sikh for the first time. Not just members from my community, but also those committed to the Congress ideology will vote for me,” he says, radiating confidence.

However, his campaign compared with that of Josan and SAD chief Sukhbir Badal remains lacklustre. Ask him about this and he retorts: ” But Josan’s supporters are not from this constituency. They are all outsiders”.

As Josan and Malkiat fight it out, it is the Akalis who are gaining ground here. “We have covered the constituency once, holding public meetings. Now, we are campaigning door to door. Since Sukhbir has to canvass elsewhere too, a team of Akali and BJP workers are on the job,” says Nirbjit Singh Dhanoa, who is spearheading Sukhbir’s campaign.