The record-breaking win of its candidate Sunil Jakhar in the border lok sabha constituency Gurdaspur comes as a much needed booster shot for the Capt. Amarinder Singh government to pursue its agenda more freely and a dampener for the determined campaigns by the ousted Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to corner the government on every conceivable issue from Day One.
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The record margin of victory, 1.93 lakh-plus, surpassing the previous highest in 1980, when Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder (Congress) had won by 1.51 lakh votes, and the fact that the party had wrested the seat from the BJP, whose candidate, Bollywood star-turned-politician Vinod Khanna, had won the last election in 2014 defeating the Congress candidate Pratap Singh Bajwa was a margin of 1.36 lakh, becomes as a big boost for the Congress central party leadership ahead of the assembly election in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. It has also placed Capt. Amarinder Singh in the centre stage of the party’s quest for reviving its electoral fortunes in the country.
The Congress leadership in the state has attributed the impressive victory in the by-election, which was caused by the death of Vinod Khanna, to choice of the best candidate (Sunil Jakhar, son of late Congress leader, former Lok Sabha speaker and Union minister Balram Singh Jakhar, is state Congress president, three time former MLA from Abohar, former leader of the Opposition, and commands a clean image as a politician), complete unity in the party, 24x7 campaigning in the constituency by Congress MLAs, workers and ministers and disillusionment of the people with both the SAD-BJP combine and the AAP.
The choice of candidate by the BJP was also questionable. Businessman Swarna Salaria remained in the thick of controversy because of his role in putting the future of medical students in jeopardy in the Chintpurni Medical College at Pathankot run by him. An old case of rape against him also haunted him during the course of the election campaign. The death knell was perhaps the arrest of his campaign in-charge from partner SAD, Sucha Singh Langah, who was arrested after a woman police constable slapped a case of rape against him. The BJP was also guilty of not capitalising on the legacy of four-time MP from the constituency, Vinod Khanna.
Salaria lost from all nine assembly segments in the lok sabha constituency. The AAP candidate Maj. Gen (retd) Suresh Khajuria was reduced to an ‘also rans’, and puts a big question mark on the future prospects of the party, which won 20 seats in the assembly elections in the state, though none from the Majha region of the state in which the Gurdaspur lok sabha constituency falls.
The outcome of the by-election once again brings to the fore the prospect of a breakup of the SAD-BJP alliance, the demand for which was strongly orchestrated within the BJP rank and file ahead of the 2017 assembly elections, but which was overruled by the central party.
The standoff within the party had lead to the party’s most prominent Sikh face in the state, Navjot Singh Sidhu leaving the party and joining the Congress. Sidhu, who won the assembly elections from Amritsar East assembly constituency on the Congress ticket, was made cabinet minister in the Capt. Amarinder Singh government and has since lead a virulent campaign against the SAD, especially its president and former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. Sidhu also to a large extent spearheaded Sunil Jakhar’s campaign from the Gurdaspur lok sabha constituency.
The so-called anger among the farmers in the state, which was orchestrated allegedly by the SAD in the form of a farmers’ agitation ahead of the polls, apparently failed to impact the outcome of the by-election. AAP leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira’s much hyped corruption crusade against Rana Gurjit Singh, Power and Irrigation minister in the Capt. Amarinder Singh government, also failed to cut much ice with the electorate.
The stage is now set for the much delayed urban local body elections in the state, which are expected to be fast tracked by the Capt Amarinder Singh government buoyed by the runaway victory in the Gurdaspur by-election victory.