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Phagwara bypoll : Cong ahead in campaign, it’s no cakewalk for BJP on long-held seat

Hindustan Times, Phagwara | By HT Correspondent, Phagwara (kapurthala)
UPDATED ON OCT 17, 2019 10:11 PM IST

With Punjab’s ruling Congress leading the campaign charge from the front in the Phagwara assembly segment, it will be no cakewalk this time for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the reserved seat it wrested three times in a row.

The bypoll for the seat, which fell vacant after sitting MLA Som Parkash was elected Hoshiarpur MP and later inducted in the Union council of ministers, will be held on October 21 along with three other segments in the state.

The saffron party is struggling to give a momentum to its campaign on ground even as it fielded a comparatively young face in former Punjab Schedule Caste Commission chairman Rajesh Bagha, 46.

While picking Bagha, who hails from the Ravidassia community with a sizeable presence among Dalits in the Doaba belt, the BJP tried to bring a neutral face to end the infighting between factions led by Som Parkash and former Union minister Vijay Sampla both of whom were lobbying for tickets for their family members.

But Bagha has not been able to strike a chord with the voters against the party’s expectations, some BJP leaders admitted.

Bagha, a Dalit face of the RSS, the BJP’s parent organisation, has not been able to shed the tag of an ‘outsider’ even as he belongs to nearby Jalandhar district. Many BJP leaders rue he was hardly seen in the constituency before and is completely banking on Som Parkash.

With Parkash by his side, he appealed to a gathering of 30-odd people in an Akali worker’s house saying, “I am here because of Som Parkash ji. You elected him MLA twice and he brought me here to serve you this time.”

His address lasted for barely two minutes.

Ruling party on a firm footing

The ruling Congress appears to be on a firm-footing and appears to be much ahead of the BJP in terms of campaign.

The party has picked a greenhorn for the seat in former IAS officer Balwinder Singh Dhalilwal by replacing its old warhorse and former minister Joginder Maan. Dhaliwal, who belong to the Valmiki community that has nearly 10,000 votes in the segment, is believed to good connect in the area having settled in Phagwara city. Besides, he served as sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Phagwara at one time. And he makes it a point to tag the BJP candidate as an outsider.

“The BJP candidate doesn’t even know the leaders of his own party. I am a local and I have served you as an SDM also. You have seen my commitment for Phagwara. If I become MLA, I will ensure development in the segment as I know how the bureaucracy functions,” Dhaliwal tells voters in the city.

Since the Congress did not garner much support from the Hindu voters earlier, the party this time made a Hindu face from Doaba and state industries minister Sunder Sham Arora as poll in-charge. Arora has turned the local JCT Guest House as the party war-room and is staying here from last 20 days. He can be seen riding a scooter while trundling the narrow lanes of the city.

The BSP factor

With the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has a strong presence in the segment, likely to play a spoilsport, both the BJP and the Congress are keeping close tabs on it.

In the 2017-assembly polls, the party candidate got 6,160 votes as its rebel Jarnail Nangal, who contested on AAP ticket, got 32, 374 votes. But the episode involving the demolition of a Ravidas temple in Delhi has reunited its cadre.

Nangal this time is trying his luck as Lok Insaaf Party nominee.

“If the BSP crosses 20,000 votes, it may spoil calculations of the both BJP and the Congress,” says a local political leader.

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