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HindustanTimes Thu,21 Aug 2014

Khanna hopeful, Bajwa in a dilemma

Kamaljit Singh Kamal and Vinay Dhingra, Hindustan Times  Gurdaspur, February 22, 2014
First Published: 00:06 IST(22/2/2014) | Last Updated: 00:10 IST(22/2/2014)

The vanquished is keen to avenge the defeat of 2009; the victor seems to be looking for a safe passage out of the electoral battle of 2014.

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This precisely sums up the race for the party ticket within the BJP and the Congress in the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency. While film star Vinod Khanna has put his 2009 defeat on the backburner and is leaving no stone unturned to get the BJP nomination, his rival, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief Partap Singh Bajwa is in a dilemma whether to contest or not.

Perhaps at the back of Bajwa’s mind is one name - not of Khanna, who in all likelihood will be picked by the BJP, but of his predecessor, Capt Amarinder Singh, who has time and again indicated his disliking of his successor. Bajwa is apprehensive that the former chief minister may play spoilsport and try to ensure his defeat through his supporters in the constituency.

In the last Lok Sabha polls, Bajwa had scraped past Khanna by a margin of a little over 8,000 votes. It was Khanna’s first defeat after three consecutive victories from Gurdaspur.

The two stalwarts had come face to face only in 2009 as Bajwa had preferred to confine himself to contesting only assembly polls and that too with an impressive record. On the other hand, the BJP brought the cine star all the way from Mumbai in 1998 for taking on the then sitting MP and Congress stalwart Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder, a former central minister.

Khanna ended Bhinder’s streak of five straight victories, to make his maiden entry into Parliament. Thereafter, he recorded impressive wins in the next two elections in 1999 and 2004, before losing to Bajwa in 2009.

Race in Congress
Bhinder’s sudden demise led the Congress to look for a suitable candidate and there was no one better than Bajwa.

“If we have to win Gurdaspur again, then the best bet is Bajwa. Irrespective of differences, all senior Congressmen will back him,” said a party MLA.

Ask Bajwa and he says, “I am not running away from the contest, neither am I a coward. If the party wants me to contest, I would do so and would win.”

The reasons being put forward for his choosing to opt out of the contest are that contesting would mean remaining confined to Gurdaspur. His duty as the PPCC chief is to canvass support for the party candidates in every nook and corner of the state.

While Bajwa may not have forwarded his name as a contender, those who have are all lightweight, with some not even well known in their respective areas. The foremost among them is former minister Raman Bhalla from Pathankot. He is close to Bajwa but is a known figure only in the Pathankot constituency.

The other contenders are Capt Vikram Singh, who has remained in the Janata Party and also in the BJP. He is a Rajput and his contention is that there are nearly 1.2 lakh Rajput voters in Pathankot district and also a lot of ex-servicemen. However, he is alien to the district and is not known among the Congress leaders of the district.

Then there is Amardeep Singh Cheema, a youth leader and national vice-president of the Nehru Yuva Kendra. He is banking on the support of his father, Madan Mohan Singh Cheema, who enjoys a good rapport with central Congress leaders.

BJP contenders
On the BJP side, the only contenders are Vinod Khanna and Swaran Salaria, a Mumbai-based businessman, who is close to a couple of senior national BJP leaders. The race in the BJP is a repeat of 2004.

With his support in the national leadership of the BJP and his ability to win back the seat, the Bollywood star’s nomination looks certain. To his credit, he claims that during his tenure as MP, he had got a number of important development works initiated. These included two bridges over the Ravi and Beas.

The Salaria group, on the other hand, points to Khanna’s limited stay in the constituency . The film star made his intentions clear in June last year when he made his presence felt in the rally addressed by Gujarat CM Narendra Modi at Madhopur and then at BJP chief Rajnath Singh’s meeting in Amritsar.

Salaria, despite being based in Mumbai, does not consider himself to be an outsider. He hails from Chohan village in Pathankot district. He is a Rajput, a community with a sizeable vote bank in Pathankot district.

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