The death of four-time Gurdaspur MP Vinod Khanna, 70, in Mumbai on Thursday came as a shock for Punjab BJP members and residents of this border constituency. Khanna was battling cancer for two years and was rarely seen in the constituency after he was elected in 2014.
Punjab BJP treasurer BK Mittal said Khanna last came to the constituency five months ago during which he visited Dostpur to interact with Border Security Force (BSF) jawans. “Despite his failing health that kept him away from Gurdaspur, Khanna did not lose touch with the people. His representatives would get the works of people done and never let them feel his absence,” he said.
Mittal said that Khanna wanted Gurdaspur to be developed as the most disciplined and cleanest town in the country.
The late MP’s political adviser, Samrendra Sharma, who is also a member of the Punjab Public Service Commission, said that Khanna wanted to develop Dhar block as a tourist destination. He was keen to start world-class water sports at the Ranjit Sagar Dam, a dream that remains unfulfilled. “The people of Gurdaspur have lost a visionary leader and a humble servant,” he said.
Sharma said Khanna got three bridges, including the one across the Beas river at Naushehra Pattan, built. The second bridge was at Kathlore across the Ravi and third was built over the Ujh river at Bamial.
He said the Pathankot civil airport was Khanna’s contribution to enable traders of the area to visit Delhi for business.
Former Gurdaspur BJP president Ramesh Sharma joined party leaders in expressing grief over Khanna’s death.
Vinod Khanna was elected the Gurdaspur MP for the first time in 1998 when he defeated Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder, a formidable Congress rival who had represented Gurdaspur in Parliament for 18 years, by a convincing margin of 1.36 lakh votes. He defeated Bhinder again by 1,350 votes in 1999. Bhinder lost to him in 2004 by 31,000 votes. But Khanna lost the Gurdaspur seat to Partap Singh Bajwa of the Congress by a thin margin of 8,000 votes in 2009. He rode the Narendra Modi wave and defeated Bajwa by 1.46 lakh votes in 2014.
Once while addressing a gathering in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 at Dhariwal, his wife Kavita said, “Vinod Khanna is a man of determination. He never makes a false promise to anyone.”
To drive home her point, she cited his commitment to spiritual leader Osho after leaving the film industry in the early ’80s. Khanna left the glamour and glitz of Bollywood in 1980-81 to join Osho’s sect. He returned to the film industry in 1986.
LONG ABSENCE FROM PUNJAB
Khanna’s long absence from his constituency drew criticism, too. People elected Partap Singh Bajwa of the Congress as Gurdaspur MP in 2009 after the opposition cited his involvement in political and business activities in Mumbai and abroad.
Once some residents of Pathankot even got posters printed saying Khanna had gone missing to express their disappointment over his long absence from the constituency.
Khanna has a house in Pathankot but he has not stayed there for long. His critics said his glamorous lifestyle did not let him get closer to the common man in his constituency.