Former Rajya Sabha MP Avinash Rai Khanna on Sunday took over as the chairman of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) poll campaign committee in Punjab. State unit president Vijay Sampla announced his appointment.
The saffron party, which has been part of the state government for two consecutive terms in alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) as the major partner, is facing strong anti-incumbency. Khanna is seen as the leader who can lift spirits of the beleaguered party cadres.
As the coalition arrangement with the SAD, the BJP contests on 23 seats out of total 117. The party had to look for new faces on most these seats as the sitting MLAs or those who unsuccessfully contested the previous polls in 2012 have either crossed the age of 75 years or have lost ground in their respective constituencies, not in a position to win the 2017 polls.
Two ministers in the state cabinet Madan Mohan Mittal and Bhagat Chunni Lal will not be in contention, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule barring those above the age of 75. Party sources said the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) too wants its political offshoot BJP to bring in new faces on all 23 seats to fight anti-incumbency.
PARTY WANTS KHANNA TO CONTEST
Khanna, 56, might also be in the fray, as — although non-committal so far — he has a strong hold in Doaba belt, particularly in Hoshiarpur, his home district.
“We will work towards forming the SAD-BJP government once again. So far, I have not decided to contest the polls,” he said.
Khanna remained MLA from Garhshankar in 2002 and became BJP legislature group leader before being made the party state president in 2003. He successfully contested the Lok Sabha polls from Hoshiarpur in 2004 and also remained in charge of party affairs in Jammu & Kashmir and Rajasthan.
Khanna was elevated to the post of national unit vice-president by party chief Amit Shah, before he resigned last month upon Modi-led panel clearing his name for National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) membership in October.
After his appointment got caught in legal tangle and a petition was moved in the Supreme Court, he came back into the party fold on the same post he held before resigning. Sampla, who owes his political rise to Khanna, has given him the charge of leading party’s poll campaign, as the BJP high command wants him to play an important role in selection of party candidates.
“He is senior, mature and would help party, especially during the polls. The BJP won maximum 19 seats in Punjab under him in 2007. We are hopeful of a similar magic this time,” said Sampla. Speaking on Khanna contesting the assembly polls, he said the party high command would take the decision.
NOW, BJP’S RATH YATRA FROM DECEMBER 29
Vijay Sampla will be launching the party’s Vijay Sankalp Rath Yatra for the 2017 polls from Husainiwala on December 29. After traversing all 23 assembly constituencies allocated to the party, it will culminate at Amritsar on January 7. BJP national and state leaders will be joining the yatra throughout its course, said a party functionary.