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Congress going through a difficult phase… but there’s discontent with BJP: Sunil Jakhar

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After winning the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll with a margin of 1.93 lakh votes, Sunil Jakhar says the result will energise party cadres across the country.

New Delhi: Ahead of assembly elections in some crucial states in the next few weeks, the Congress received a shot in the arm when it won the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll on 15 October.

State Congress president Sunil Jakhar won the seat, vacated through the death of the BJP’s Vinod Khanna, but even more than the victory, it was the margin – 1.93 lakh votes – that provided the big boost for the Congress’s morale.

In an exclusive telephonic interaction with ThePrint, Jakhar discussed the reasons for victory, the state of the Congress party, and the big message coming out of Punjab.

Excerpts:

After a long spell of losing, how important is this victory for the Congress?

This is not our first victory. But people are focussing more on Gurdaspur because of the margin of victory. Even in the last round of assembly elections, there were signs that people were discontent with the BJP, because the Congress did win in Punjab, Manipur, and Goa. In Goa and Manipur, however, the BJP disrespected the people’s mandate and used money power to form the government.

What was different in Gurdaspur this time? 

The BJP has a strong support base among the urban voters, especially traders. However, during the assembly elections, we got overwhelming support from the urban voters. In Gurdaspur, too, the urban voters voted for us, which was not the case earlier. It is a big trend emerging from Gurdaspur.

But your opponents are saying it was easier for Congress to win, as there is now a Congress government in the state…

I agree, because the way the Congress government under Capt. Amarinder Singh is working in Punjab, the people are looking at us positively. At the same time, the Lok Sabha bypoll was also a referendum on the policies of the Modi government at the Centre. During my campaign, I noticed the troubles faced by farmers, traders, and the youth, and the desperation to oust the BJP was quite visible. I promised that I would raise their issues in Parliament.

The BJP says it has managed to improve its vote share in different assembly segments in Gurdaspur, and that it’s the AAP’s poor performance that has contributed to the Congress’s victory…

The spell which has been cast by the BJP government is for everyone to see on ground. Still, if they are claiming a rise in vote share and want to live with that feeling, we’re absolutely fine with it.

You met Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday in Delhi. What was the meeting about?

It was a courtesy meeting, and I thanked him for giving me the opportunity to contest from Gurdaspur. I was hesitant in the beginning, but Captain sahab and Rahul ji suggested I should fight. I also requested him to take the post of the party’s national president, as it is a good time to take charge.

Do you think this winning streak will continue in the upcoming assembly elections?

Assembly elections are completely different, and along with national factors, there are regional issues that play a bigger role. But for sure, this victory has reverberated far beyond Punjab, and the party cadre is feeling energised.

There are also some Lok Sabha bypolls likely to be held along with the assembly elections…

I think the bypolls for the Lok Sabha seats should have happened alongside Gurdaspur. By not doing so, the Election Commission of India has undermined its authority and put a question mark on the credibility of the institution.

What is the state of Congress as of now? 

The Congress is going through a difficult phase, and it faces an uphill task. But the leadership emerges during difficult times, and we are all working towards that. In Punjab, we are trying to address the farm crisis seriously.

The irony is that more questions are being asked of us than the government in power.

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