The once-menacing Ravi may have been tamed with the construction of the Ranjit Sagar dam, but the scars left behind by the river persist in numerous villages along the Indo-Pakistan border, where life is full of hardships as the fruits of development never reached residents even after 15 Lok Sabha elections.
Once ranked as the most prosperous district after Amritsar, Gurdaspur today has been officially listed as the most backward district in Punjab. Barring government jobs, no employment opportunities have been created and the area lacks quality educational facilities.
The Batala township, with its famed foundry industry, was once the pride of this constituency. The units in this town are now either shut or have been turned into marriage palaces.
Though there are 17 candidates in the fray, the contest will be triangular — between sitting MP and Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief Partap Singh Bajwa, three-time MP and Bollywood star Vinod Khanna of the BJP and former minister Sucha Singh Chhotepur of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
Salaria, after being denied the ticket, had decided to contest as an independent. However, he finally opted out after the intervention of some senior BJP leaders, much to Khanna’s relief.
The Bollywood star, who dislodged the once-unbeatable and five-time MP of this constituency, the late Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder, is back on the dusty roads of the constituency, telling people how Bajwa ignored them in the past five years. He is trying to win back the electorate which had sent him to Parliament in 1998, 1999 and 2004.
Citing the two bridges he got built over the Ravi and another on the Beas, Khanna promises more development in the constituency, while his supporters woo the electorate with the promise that in an NDA government under Narendra Modi, the cine star could be made a minister. Khanna will be heavily dependent on Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders for seeing him through in rural areas as the contest in urban areas and the Hindu-dominated Pathankot district is expected to be close.
Bajwa was reluctant to contest initially but had no option when the Congress high command put its foot down. Having ignored the constituency, Bajwa is projecting himself as the chief minister in 2017 to win votes.Bajwa does not have to contend only with the opposition but also with his own partymen, particularly Amarinder loyalists. However, he has succeeded in winning back the support of some of his detractors and has now got his campaign going.
Chhotepur is no pushover as in the 2002 assembly polls, he won as an Independent from Dhariwal. He has remained in the SAD and also in the Congress and has a support base, particularly in areas around Gurdaspur. He is likely to cut into both Congress and Akali votes.
Constituency at a glance
The constituency comprises nine assembly segments, falling in Gurdaspur and Pathankot districts. This seat has been a Congress stronghold since the first Lok Sabha polls. The party won all elections, barring in 1977 (Janata Party) and then in 1998, 1999 and 2002, which were won by BJP's Vinod Khanna. The Congress' Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder won five consecutive polls from 1980 to 1996.
Intriguingly, Bhinder and Khanna have won successive elections despite not coming up to the expectations of the electorate.
Assembly wise votes in Gurdaspur Parliamentary Constituency:
Area Total votes Male votes Female votes
01 Sujanpur 1,54,970 80926 74051
02 Bhoa 166670 86744 79926
03Pathankot 141823 73305 68518
04Gurdaspur 53915 79979 73936
05Dinanagar 180826 94474 86352
06Qadian 178237 93409 84828
07Batala 178307 93319 84988
09Fatehgarh Churian 157206 82116 75092
10Dera Baba Nanak 176209 91095 85114