Congress ticket war for Gurdaspur bypoll: Amarinder’s pick Jakhar, defiant Bajwas meet Sonia Gandhi | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Congress ticket war for Gurdaspur bypoll: Amarinder’s pick Jakhar, defiant Bajwas meet Sonia Gandhi

Jakhar’s name was reportedly recommended by Amarinder Singh in a meeting with Sonia on Monday, while Bajwa, who contested from the segment in the last two parliamentary elections, wants the ticket for his wife Charanjit Kaur Bajwa.

punjab Updated: Sep 19, 2017 22:08 IST
HT Corrspondent
Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar (L) and Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa
Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar (L) and Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa(HT Photos)

The turf war over the Congress ticket for Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat reached New Delhi on Tuesday as both contending sides, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar and Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa, met party president Sonia Gandhi at her residence. The seat will see a bypoll on October 11 due to the death of BJP MP Vinod Khanna in April.

While Jakhar’s name was reportedly recommended by chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh in a meeting with Sonia on Monday, Bajwa, who contested from the segment in the last two parliamentary elections, wants the ticket for his wife Charanjit Kaur Bajwa.

“I assured the Congress president of my best efforts to secure the seat for whoever the party fields. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi is in New York, and the candidate will be named after his approval.”_Sunil Jakhar, Punjab Cong president

After Tuesday’s meeting with Sonia, Jakhar said he assured the Congress president of his best efforts to secure the seat for “whoever the party decides to field”. He reiterated what he had said on Monday, “Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi is in New York and the candidate will be announced after his approval.”

An hour later, Bajwa and his wife Charanjit, a former MLA from Qadian, too met Sonia. Sounding defiant, Bajwa said he put up his case before the party high command and expects “justice”.

“I told Sonia that Amarinder had promised my wife would be given the ticket to contest from Gurdaspur in 2019 Lok Sabha polls at a meeting at his New Delhi residence in the presence of the party’s two central nominees in December last year. Captain had then said it was sad that, when the party needed women candidates, his wife Preneet Kaur had to leave her seat, Patiala, for him and my wife had to leave her seat Qadian for my brother (Fateh Jang Bajwa, who won). He said both the women would be given tickets in 2019,” Bajwa told HT. Fateh Bajwa was the first to call for a local candidate, indirectly underlining that Jakhar, who lost this time from Abohar assembly segment this time, is not from the region.

“Before the state polls, Captain had said my wife Charanjit will get the ticket from Gurdaspur in the 2019 LS polls, and his wife Preneet Kaur will contest Patiala. I expect the party to do justice now.” _Partap Singh Bajwa, Rajya Sabha member

Fearing wilderness

Also, Bajwa said five of the six candidates for whom he secured tickets in the state elections this year, won, but they cannot openly support him now. “The Pahra family (Gurdaspur MLA Brinderjit Singh Pahara) came to my home before he fought the Youth Congress elections and pledged support to Charanjit for the 2019 election. The ministers from Gurdaspur LS segment (Aruna Chaudhary and Tript Rajinder Bajwa) too have no objection to my wife’s candidature,” he said, adding rhetorically, “But who will openly support me against the CM’s wish?”

He added, “We helped the party do well in the area, and the party cannot leave us in political wilderness by overlooking our claim.” The Pahra family is also learnt to have taken a pledge to support Charanjit at the Ghallughara gurdwara in Gurdaspur. Former Batala MLA Ashwani Sekhri, who lost this time, too had pledged support in return for support from Bajwas.

While Jakhar’s supporters are pitching Gurdaspur as a “Hindu seat” — saying that the segment has roughly 47% Hindus and 45% Sikhs — Bajwa said fielding a Sikh candidate would also make for better strategy when both the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are fielding Hindus. “Isn’t there more advantage in putting up a Sikh candidate?” he stated.

2019 bargain?

On whether he would support any other candidate announced by the party, Bajwa first said there was no unanimity on the candidate and this election would be a “referendum” on the six months of Congress rule. “The farmer unions are protesting, and news channels and cable network controlled by the SAD-BJP are indulging in anti-government propaganda. The party needs to take everyone on board,” he said, adding, “As a true Congressman, I am committed to the party’s victory and will support whoever the party high command decides to field.”

But Jakhar loyalists say Bajwa’s calculations have gone awry. “He did not foresee Congress winning Punjab and thought it better to move to the Rajya Sabha till 2022 — the next state polls — thinking that the wave was in favour of the AAP in 2017,” said an MLA from within the Gurdaspur LS segment said, adding, “Now he wants to stay relevant as he is virtually out of state politics. His younger brother has taken Qadian from his wife. By staking claim to Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat, he wants to stay afloat politically and be in a bargaining position for the next parliamentary elections in 2019.”