Cong’s heady mix: Power, Jakhar, GST, ‘discredited’ SAD-BJP leaders
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Cong’s heady mix: Power, Jakhar, GST, ‘discredited’ SAD-BJP leaders

In contest between Hindu trio, Jat Sikh, Christian votes went to Cong kitty; party made big strides in rural seats of Gurdaspur, Rajputs rallied behind Salaria in Dinanagar, Pathankot district’s 3 seats

punjab Updated: Oct 15, 2017 22:12 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Sunil Jakhar,Congress,BJP
Congress candidate and Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Sunil Jakhar after his victory in Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll on Sunday. (HT Photo)

It was not a “native” that Gurdaspur returned after the October 11 bypoll. Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar, whom his rivals dubbed an “outsider” from Abohar in Malwa, won the seat hands down, scripting the biggest ever victory in Gurdaspur’s history with lead of 1.93 lakh votes.

With the bypoll being a test of its popularity after returning to power with a stunning win in February, the Congress had upped its stakes and that of Jakhar by fielding him on an unknown turf of Majha, mainly on demand of a majority of MLAs of the area.

The Congress, BJP and AAP had pitched Hindu candidates.

While the community’s votes got divided between the Congress and BJP, the winning party managed to bag a majority of Jat Sikh and Christian votes in rural seats of Gurdaspur district, with highest lead of 44,074 votes from Dera Baba Nanak seat of MLA Sukhjinder Randhawa, whose poll rival Sucha Singh Langah was arrested during the campaign on rape charges.

The second highest lead too was from Jat Sikh-dominated seat of Farehgarh Churian of minister Tript Rajinder Bajwa. Both rural seats had seen higher percentage of polling than others.

The party also did well in the rural seat of Qadian with more Jat Sikh votes and urban seats of Gurdaspur and Batala where Jat Sikh and Hindu votes are on a par but traders are angry at the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Jakhar lead in all nine segments, including Pathankot district, a BJP stronghold. Traders angry at GST from Khatri, Mahajan and Brahmin communities seemed to have gone the Congress way while Rajputs rallied behind BJP candidate Swaran Salaria, who was not too far behind the Congress tally at district’s three seats — Pathankot, Sujanpur, Bhoa — and Rajput-dominated Dinanagar.

No-holds-barred campaign

The Congress had planned the campaign and executed it with precision by making each of the nine assembly segments count. With seven MLAs, two of them ministers, even the odds were in favour of the ruling Congress. The CM’s pre-poll bonanza for Gurdaspur voters and promise of debt waiver to farmers too helped.

As if this was not enough, the Congress also did not hesitate in inflicting damage on the rival camp by “discrediting” the SAD-BJP leaders. Former Akali minister Sucha Singh Langah, a party strongman, was arrested on rape charges during the campaign and an old rape case came to haunt Salaria too.

Both the SAD-BJP and AAP failed to match the rigour of the ruling party in the election which they had dubbed as a “referendum” on the seven-month-old Captain Amarinder Singh government.

The candidate

Along with intense campaigning by its MLAs and ministers who threw their lot behind Jakhar, his being a high-profile and non-controversial candidate as compared to Salaria also went in the party’s favour. Both Salaria and AAP candidate Maj Gen Suresh Khajuria (retd) were political greenhorns.

The election has resurrected Jakhar after he failed to retain his bastion, Abohar, this time in state polls after losing from Ferozepur in 2014 parliamentary elections.

The gains for the party go beyond Punjab. The bypoll wins in Kerela and Punjab has bolstered Congress at the national level. Closer home, it has given its rank and file a much-needed boost as it fights to retain Himachal next month.

First Published: Oct 15, 2017 22:01 IST