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For the BJP, wide margin of defeat in Gurdaspur is nothing short of humiliation

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The resounding defeat of AAP is an indication that the state is back to its conventional two-party system

That the Congress candidate from Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency was better placed over his BJP rival was clear as the campaigning came to a close. But the massive margin of victory has left even the Congress leaders stunned. To wrest a seat by a margin of 1.93 lakh votes, when the BJP had won it by a margin of 1.40 lakh votes in 2014, is remarkable for the Congress, which has been witnessing a slide across the country over the last few years.

For the BJP, which had been on a winning streak, the wide margin of defeat is nothing short of humiliation. The huge difference in the vote share is sure to make the leaders sit up and take note.

Congress hit all the right notes by first nominating its state chief, Sunil Jakhar, who enjoys a good reputation, and then placating former state chief Partap Singh Bajwa who was wanted the ticket.

The Congress party effectively exploited the resentment over the fallout of demonetisation and GST and appealed to the voters to teach the BJP a lesson, even though a lone addition to the Congress tally in the Lok Sabha would make no difference. The party’s campaign, led by Punjab chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, kept its focus on the ‘failures’ of Modi government rather than its ‘achievements’ in the state.

The BJP fumbled even before the start of the campaign. Despite a strong claim by Kavita Khanna, wife of late Vinod Khanna, who had represented the constituency four times in Lok Sabha, the BJP chose a Mumbai-based moneybag, Swaran Salaria, to be its candidate. It faced acute embarrassment when photographs of Salaria in sexual acts went viral on social media just before the campaign closed. Salaria also runs some educational institutions in the region, which had come under the shadow of controversies.

Sunil Jakhar’s public meeting with Kavita Khanna to convey condolences over Vinod Khanna’s death, was reflective of the mood of the party leaders even though she subsequently shared stage with Salaria too. Public rallies organised by the party drew poor response and several local leaders dropped out of campaigning due to differences over the choice of candidate.

But one of major fallout of the by-election was the pathetic performance of the Aam Aadmi Party. Its candidate Maj Gen Suresh Khajuria (retd) finished a distant third by securing merely 23,000 votes and forfeiting his security deposit. It was one state where AAP counted itself as a major force despite its defeat in the Assembly elections. The resounding defeat is an indication that the state is back to its conventional two-party system.

The outcome in Gurdaspur may not affect the political scenario in the ensuing Assembly elections in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh next month where the Congress government under Virbhadra Singh is fighting with its back to the wall. Still, hope has revived among the Congress leaders and supporters in that state.

 Vipin Pubby is a senior journalist based in Chandigarh.

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