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Gurdaspur bypoll: In high-stakes battle, dirty war goes viral

Campaigning for the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll seat ended on Monday and the voting will take place on Wednesday.

punjab Updated: Oct 09, 2017 19:39 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Gurdaspur bypoll,Amarinder Singh,Punjab news
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh during a road show in Batala on Monday.(Sameer Sehgal/HT)

When stakes go up, everything else goes down. The bitter campaign for the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll, to be held on Wednesday, came to an end on Monday leaving a legacy of an election fought on political slander. From playing the communal card to sleazy videos, the high-prestige battle saw it all.

during a road show in favour of Congress candidate for Gurdaspur Lok Sabha by poll Sunil Jakhar, in Batala on Monday. October 9, 2017. (Photo by Sameer Sehgal/Hindustan Times)

While the Congress candidate and state party chief Sunil Jakhar dubbed it as a referendum on the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre, the opposition Akali-BJP alliance said it would be a verdict on the performance of the seven-month-old Captain Amarinder Singh government in Punjab. Both need a win to prove the other wrong.

Though the election commission (EC) forbids use of religion for votes, there was no video recording of election rallies. So, Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal telling voters during his speeches that BJP candidate Swaran Salaria is a “Rajput, with a Saini wife and son married into a Mahajan family” was not something that caught the EC’s eager eye. Neither did it take notice when Congress minister Razia Sultana wooed Muslims by telling them that the “BJP had started interfering in their mazhab (religious affairs)”.

There were also no-holds-barred personal attacks. The first salvo came from BJP chief Vijay Sampla on September 29 who did himself little credit by asking people to “vote for the native” by telling them that not only is Jakhar an “outsider” (from Abohar), his in-laws too are Swiss while those of BJP candidate Salaria live in Gurdaspur. It was only the beginning. A rape complaint against former Akali minister Sucha Singh Langah, a potential vote-spoiler for the Congress, came the next day, along with a sleazy video that went viral.

The day the saga ended with Langah’s surrender in a Gurdaspur court, a rape complainant against Salaria resurfaced. The BJP candidate had managed to win party’s nomination on grounds that the woman’s petition had been rejected by the Mumbai high court. So she moved the Supreme Court and gave interviews to television channels and put their intimate pictures online. Then it was time for some fake news. The BJP complained to the EC against reports of Salaria withdrawing his nomination posted on social media.

VOTERS’ ISSUES CAN WAIT

The sleaze hijacked local, state as well as national issues. But it is not videos that farmers are talking of in villages or traders in towns. It was only after the announcement of the bypoll that the cabinet approved the farm loan waiver scheme and put the ball in the EC’s court. And there it stays till the verdict day (October 15).

For Gurmukh Singh of Kotli Soorat Malhi village in Dera Baba Nanak, who owns three-and-half acres of land, the waiver promised by government could have helped him procure loan for the next crop cycle. “Langah is not an issue for us. Everybody knows he was a land-grabber. The Rs 2 lakh relief would have been enough, had it come,” he says.

In towns, the BJP had to contend with anger of traders — its main vote bank — against the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Act. “First the note ban, then the GST proved back-breaking for our business,” says Pradeep Mahajan, who owns a mobile phones shop in Pathankot. The students want higher education institutes, elderly timely pensions and poor families, timely atta-dal. A common bane of Pathankot is lack of rail overbridges. The issue of high sand prices resonates across Gurdaspur.

The third contender in the contest, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), is making the right noises, but they drowned in the smear campaign between the two ruling parties, one in the state and other at the Centre.

All three parties have their own break-up of caste and community votes. All three have fielded Hindu candidates but also worry for Jat Sikh votes. But a bigger irony was in a poll narrative marred by rape cases, women issues found no mention in any party’s campaign.

First Published: Oct 09, 2017 19:38 IST