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Gurdaspur bypoll: Cong’s Jakhar sheds ‘outsider’ tag to match dare for a dare

The Congress is not shying from demonstrating that it is in power in the state. Now it is the Akalis who are complaining of false cases against their sarpanches and poll agents.

punjab Updated: Oct 08, 2017 10:14 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
HindustanTimes, Gurdaspur
Gurdaspur bypoll,Sunil Jakhar,Swaran Salaria
Congress candidate Sunil Jakhar campaigning at Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency . (HT Photo)

They say when in Majha, be a Majhail. For it is not issues but “bahubalis” (strongmen) who win elections in this belt, matching dare for a dare.

Congress candidate Sunil Jakhar, who hails from Abohar in Malwa, is turning into one himself.

At Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur, he starts his election speech by taking a dig at his rival and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Swaran Salaria and Akalis by saying “Jido gidar da shikar karan jao, te sher de layi vi samaan le jao (if you go to hunt a jackal, be also prepared to deal with a lion).

He then challenges Salaria to a debate and adds sarcastically, “He cannot speak. How will he then speak in the Parliament?”

The Congress is not shying from demonstrating that it is in power in the state. Now it is the Akalis who are complaining of false cases against their sarpanches and poll agents.

The political adage that the ‘ruling party wins the bypoll’ is apparently Jakhar’s best hope. And hope, local government minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, tells voters is the biggest tope (cannon)!

Considering religion to be a factor, the poll arithmetic for Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat favours a Hindu candidate. In Gurdaspur, the three most dominant communities are Jat-Sikhs, Rajputs and Christians in descending order. Jakhar, a Hindu Jat, belongs to none.

With the loan waiver promise still on papers, Jat Sikhs are the cause of concern for the Congress in villages. So the party has made former Akali minister Sucha Singh Langah, who has been arrested on rape charges this week, its main target. But Langah did not matter beyond Dera Baba Nanak. Now an old rape complaint has resurfaced against BJP candidate Swaran Singh Salaria. Their videos and pictures on social media are Jakhar’s main ammunition to sell his clean image.

“I don’t lie for votes. I have earned name in politics, not money. I am ashamed to be a politician after shameful videos of Langah and Salaria have gone viral. Now people will look at all politicians with disdain,” he says at his rallies.

Loan waiver vs GST

In urban areas, Jakhar makes the most of hardships faced by traders, which is giving the BJP jitters. “Be it Batala, Gurdaspur or Pathankot, all traders are up in arms against the Goods and Services Tax (GST),” Jakhar says, while visiting temples and gurdwaras in villages between his rallies.

On the other hand, the SAD-BJP combine and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are reminding farmers that the promised loan waiver has not materialised. “Pensions and subsidised rations too are not timely. You may soon have to pay their power and water bills too,” they warn.

But Jakhar blames the previous government for delay in the loan waiver. “Jaande jaande Akali-BJP khazane da batta maanj ke toor gaye (before leaving, the SAD-BJP alliance emptied the state treasury).”

While the Congress, which swept the Majha belt in the assembly polls in February by promising “to end the Badal empire, sand mafia and catch drug big fish”, skirts any mention of it now. But SAD president Sukhbir Badal does.

“Police ona di, sarkar ona di. Dasan kere Akali mantri nasha vechde si. Kithe gaya sand mafia (the police and government is of the Congress. Ask them where are Akali ministers who sold drugs or were involved in sand mining),” he says at his rallies.

The ‘outsider’ tag

But what weighs against Jakhar is the “outsider” tag.

AAP candidate Maj Gen Suresh Khajuria (retd) calls him a “heavyweight lifted by a crane and parked in Gurdaspur after two poll defeats”. Former SAD minister Bikram Singh Majithia tells voters in Dera Baba Nanak—a place where he has been deputed as Langah’s replacement—that Jakhar will not contest the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Gurdaspur and Congress will again find a new face.

Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Randhawa counters it at his rallies and announces: “Jakhar will contest 2019 and even 2024 parliamentary polls from here. He is now a Gurdaspuri not a Ferozepuri (he is now a resident of Gurdaspur not Ferozepur).”

No rally of Randhawa ends without challenging Majithia for a bout. Jakhar, on his part, reminds Gurdaspur of his previous visits to show solidarity with cane growers or when Dalits died in Batala.

“No one asked for my domicile certificate then,” he says, adding that his father, Balram Jakhar, had been two-time speaker of the Lok Sabha, but he will get entry into the Lok Sabha only if they vote for him.

Vendetta politics: Now and then

The Congress office in Gurdaspur shows on which side the power lies. It is beaming with SUVs, workers and campaign managers calling officials in the civil administration, police and party leaders.

At the SAD office, this action is missing. Former SAD minister Daljit Cheema shows a list of names of officials they are complaining about to the Election Commission and says their sarpanches and poll agents will be sent behind bars on frivolous charges before the polling day on October 11. Asked if don’t all ruling parties do this, he counters, “Not as blatantly as them.”

As Jakhar moves in his cavalcade on Thursday, he spots the escort vehicle flaunting black commandos and asks MLA Randhawa if he requisitioned them. Randhawa blurts a no, saying that he just has one gunmen. “The government must have decided to upgrade the security,” he then says.

A new Jakhar, a new seat and a new government. What has not changed is the way Majha likes to witness a contest.

First Published: Oct 08, 2017 10:10 IST