Congress wins Gurdaspur now, but will Jakhar-Bajwa turf war see replay in 2019?
Sunil Jakhar and Partap Bajwa had both lost the 2014 parliamentary elections from their home turfs, Ferozepur and Gurdaspur, respectivelypunjab Updated: Oct 16, 2017 18:10 IST
Sometimes not having what you want is a stroke of luck. The saying seems to have come true for Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar who was last year vying for a Rajya Sabha nomination after being removed as the leader of opposition in the state assembly.
Jakhar and then Congress state chief Partap Bajwa had both lost the 2014 parliamentary elections from their home turfs, Ferozepur and Gurdaspur, respectively, while Captain Amarinder Singh defeated BJP’s Arun Jaitley from Amritsar. Both were shunted out in November 2015 from their posts in the run-up to the state polls. Bajwa fell to Amarinder’s relentless campaign to oust him and Jakhar lost his job for waging Captain’s war against Bajwa.
In February 2016, his father Balram Jakhar, a two-time Lok Sabha speaker and Madhya Pradesh governor, passed away. The next month, two Rajya Sabha seats fell vacant in Punjab and Bajwa was nominated to one. Jakhar, who was hoping to make it to the other, was left in the lurch. An embittered Jakhar had then spoken openly against the party’s central appointees in Punjab and even toyed with the idea of quitting the party. But a dyed-in-wool Congressman, he did not make the move.
As the Congress ended its 10-year jinx to return to power in Punjab in February 2017, Jakhar lost from his home turf, Abohar, after three back-to-back wins. With Hindus having led the party to victory and Jakhar and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi burying the hatchet, he was resurrected as state party chief.
But Punjab has a Jat Sikh as CM, which takes Jakhar’s ambitions beyond the state. The record win in the Gurdaspur bypoll on Sunday has given him what he needed -- a new turf to be in central politics.
With six to seven lakh Rai Sikh votes, winning Ferozepur parliamentary constituency -- where Abohar falls -- is never going to be easy for him. It was the consolidation of the community’s votes that saw BSP’s Mohan Singh Phalianwala defeat Jakhar in 1996 and Shiromani Akali Dal’s Sher Singh Ghubaya in 2014. Meanwhile, the Abohar seat too has outlived the legacy of Balram Jakhar, who had contested his last three parliamentary elections from neighbouring Rajasthan. The Hindu votes in the constituency have realigned to the advantage of Khatris and Aroras, which resulted in Jakhar losing this time to a political greenhorn, Arun Narang. Jakhar belongs to the Hindu Bagri community, which has few votes in the Ferozepur Lok Sabha seat.
On this premise, Gurdaspur, seen as a Hindu seat with strong Jat Sikh local leaders who can pull votes, makes it a better bet for Jakhar even in 2019. That was what led former Gurdaspur MP Bajwa to openly oppose his candidature this time though he agreed to toe the party line finally. But a year and a half on, Bajwa may not be willing to give up his wife’s claim to the seat as his own Rajya Sabha stint gets over in 2022.
Jakhar said it is the party high command that asked him to contest from Gurdaspur this time and they will take that call in 2019, too.
But the Gurdaspur saga may not end for the Congress in 2017. Jakhar will use his one-and-half years as Gurdaspur MP to make a mark in the Parliament and even be catapulted to the post of the party’s deputy leader in Lok Sabha, which Amarinder occupied after winning Amritsar. Both Amritsar and Gurdaspur elections have shown that being an outsider is a tag rivals in Punjab cannot encash to snatch a victory.