Chandigarh : Elections to the 117 assembly seats in Punjab are not about political parties and politicians alone. The state’s officialdom has got involved this time – not just for conducting the polls but for contesting seats as well.
Leading the pack is Darbara Singh Guru, who until last month was Punjab’s most powerful bureaucrat, as principal secretary to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. He is now the official candidate of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal from the Bhadaur (reserved) assembly seat.
Guru, a 1980 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, is pitted against popular folk singer Mohammad Sadique of the Congress. He quit his job last month, just hours before assembly polls were announced for Punjab by the Election Commission (EC).
The bureaucrat, who was quite inaccessible to the common man until last month as he headed the chief minister’s office, can now be seen going around villages in the constituency, seeking votes from people with folded hands. Though the neck-tie, which was his trademark as a bureaucrat, is gone, Guru continues to wear his coat-trousers combo instead of adorning the khadi or kurta-pyjama like other politicians.
“The CM (Badal) has chosen me for the seat. I have grown up doing odd jobs and have a rural connect,” said Guru, who has been facing accusations that he was favouring this seat with projects and funds with an eye on elections.
Badal, who canvassed for his favourite bureaucrat last week, told a gathering: “I did not want him (Guru) to retire from work. It is up to you people now to ensure his victory and see to it that he continues to work for you.”
Guru is not the only official in the fray.
Former Punjab director general of police (DGP) P.S. Gill, who retired in September last year and was appointed special advisor for security to deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, is the Akali Dal candidate for the Moga seat.
Both Guru and Gill are being watched closely by the Election Commission during their campaigning. Every movement of both officers, who are now candidates, is being videographed.
Punjab’s director for sports and former Olympian Pargat Singh too quit his job earlier this month to enter the political fray for the Jalandhar Cantonment seat on the Akali Dal ticket.
Another bureaucrat, S.R. Kler, who was until recently additional deputy commissioner of Ludhiana, has been fielded from Jagraon by the Akali Dal.
In Malerkotla, which has a traditional Muslim votebank, the wives of two top police officers are fighting it out.
Two-time Congress legislator Razia Sultana, wife of serving additional director general of police (ADGP) Mohammed Mustafa, is seeking re-election to the seat. Her opponent, Farzana Alam of the Akali Dal, is the wife of former DGP Izhar Alam.
In other seats, nearly 10 other bureaucrats or officials have been fielded by the leading parties.