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Gurdaspur bypoll result is a wake-up call for SAD-BJP, big boost for Congress

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Bypoll outcome has proved again that Punjab is not smitten by Modi; AAP receives yet another setback

Chandigarh: Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar wrested the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat from the SAD-BJP combine Sunday with a thumping margin of nearly 2 lakh votes.

Considering that Bollywood star-turned-politician Vinod Khanna won this seat in 2014 with a margin of over 1.36 lakh, Jakhar’s margin of 1.93 lakh signifies a swing of over 3.25 lakh votes in favour of the Congress, in just three years.

The bypoll, necessitated following Khanna’s death in April this year, could be a cause of concern for the BJP riding high on its stunning victory in Uttar Pradesh. Also, the Gurdaspur bypoll has proved, all over again, that Punjab is not smitten by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Whether it was the electorate’s revulsion for Akali leader Sucha Singh Langah who was booked for rape days before voting or the effect of BJP’s economic policies such as demonetisation and GST, Punjab’s preference for the Congress and rejection of the SAD-BJP combine continues since January this year when Congress swept assembly polls, winning 77 out of 117 seats.

For the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), this is yet another humiliating defeat, down to 23,500 votes from 1.73 lakh in 2014. The party never had a strong base in Majha (the region comprising the state’s border districts), but its candidate losing even his deposit only shows people of Punjab rejecting them, yet again.

Sex, lies and videotape

What harmed the campaign of the SAD-BJP the most was a sex tape of former cabinet minister and senior Akali leader from Gurdaspur, Sucha Singh Langah. A classmate of his daughter alleged that he had been raping her for nine years and handed over a video of the alleged act to the police, along with her complaint. Langah was booked for rape and cheating even as the video went viral on social media.

Choice of candidate

The BJP gave the ticket to a money bag candidate, Swaran Singh Salaria, who was backed by yoga guru Baba Ramdev. Salaria is a Mumbai-based businessman whose only claim to fame was that he was a local and had been politically active for several years.

However, the Congress was quick to rake up an old rape case against him. Although Salaria claimed that the matter had been sorted out, with just days to go to the elections, the victim filed a fresh complaint against him.

In hindsight, the BJP could have done better had the ticket been given to the other contender — Kavita Khanna, Vinod Khanna’ widow. Other than the sympathy factor, she carried no embarrassing baggage.

Modi not a factor 

Salaria was fighting a losing battle and he tried his best to cash in on the Modi factor. His campaign focused entirely on his being a member the ‘Modi team’ and how in one year he will have the PM give the constituency more than it had ever dreamed of. But no one seemed to have been impressed. Unlike some other states, Modi has never been a vote puller in Punjab, proved first in 2014 and then the assembly elections this year.

BJP’s lacklustre campaign

The BJP’s campaign lacked verve and enthusiasm. In fact, it almost seemed that BJP knew that they would not win Gurdaspur. No national leader bothered to come and campaign for Salaria. Former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal too decided to stay away from campaigning following the Langah controversy. The low voter turnout too was seen as a result of BJP failing to mobilise its voters.

Congress’s aggressive campaign

Congress campaign was direct and attacking. It made the most of the revulsion generated against Langah, talking about his “low moral character”. Jakhar also declared Salaria a liar, not having told the Election Commission about the rape case registered against him. Jakhar also focused on his party’s promises made in the assembly polls and development.

Demontisation and GST

Although demonetisation and GST did not seem to be major factors in the run-up to the bypoll, the winning margins clocked in by Jakhar in segments that have been traditionally BJP pocket boroughs show a distinct resentment for the BJP. In Sujanpur for instance, Khanna had secured 60,000 votes in 2014, while Salaria got a little over 37,000. Pathankot went down from 55,000 votes in 2014 to just over 32,000 and Dinanagar from almost 50,000 to 40,000.

Captain is the star

Today’s victory, close on the heels of the party’s grand show in the assembly elections, establishes Captain Amarinder Singh among the top leaders in the Congress, nationally. Being looked upon as a mini referendum on Singh’s government and faced with a silent storm from within his party, the Gurdaspur bypoll was also a matter of personal prestige for him. The victory is expected to stamp down internal squabbling, leaving the field clear for him.

Much needed for Jakhar

For Jakhar, the soft spoken and suave son of Balram Jakhar, this victory was much needed.  Being in the Lok Sabha, even for one year, is a big boost to his political career which seemed to flag after he was defeated in his family seat of Abohar in the assembly elections. Jakhar has remained the leader of the opposition when the Akalis were in power for 10 years in Punjab and brought an intellectual touch to the assembly proceedings.

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  1. BJP is loosing the ground because of the bad governance at the center. Last time money has played the game largely in Manipur and Goa for BJP; they are busy only in defeating the opponents rather then doing good job. If they start doing the good job everything will fall in order. Tragic is, only their words are speaking not the work.

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