Gurdaspur bypoll: AAP’s Khajuria makes it ‘aam aadmi vs khas’ | punjab | top | Hindustan Times
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Gurdaspur bypoll: AAP’s Khajuria makes it ‘aam aadmi vs khas’

Lone ranger: Former armyman stirs poll pourri with local flavours, accuses Congress govt of eyeing 1.23 lakh ex-servicemen votes through ‘Guardians of Governance’ scheme; raps BJP on GST; equates both with sand mafia.

punjab Updated: Oct 09, 2017 22:03 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Pathankot
AAP,Gurdaspur,Gurdaspur Lok Sabha byelection
AAP candidate Maj Gen Suresh Khajuria (retd) during his campaign at Pathankot. (Ravi Kumar/HT)

If the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has the albatross of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) around its neck, the Congress has the baggage of “unkept” poll promises.

So the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is stirring the poll pourri in Gurdaspur by warning voters against both the parties which had “promised them the moon”. AAP candidate for the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha byelection, Maj Gen Suresh Khajuria (retd), is not the routine politician who dives for feet of elders or throws dares at his rallies. A retired armyman, he shakes hands or waves to the crowd and has no cavalcade of SUVs following him.

At Pathankot, a town dominated by Khatris and Mahajans (who also form the town’s main trading community), Khajuria walks shop-to-shop as day’s business hours close. He calls himself an “aam aadmi” fighting against an industrialist with Rs 2,000-crore business empire (BJP’s Swaran Salaria) and a Congress heavyweight (Sunil Jakhar), whom Khajuria describes as “crane-lifted by the party and parked” in Gurdaspur for the bypoll.

At Pathankot, a town dominated by Khatris and Mahajans (who also form the town’s main trading community), Khajuria walks shop-to-shop as day’s business hours close.

“Both of them will not stay here,” he tells the people around, adding, “I am not a high-profile candidate who lives in Mumbai, Delhi or Chandigarh. I will be with you 24/7. I will also be your voice in Delhi.”

Besides this, the retired fauji ensures to keep the poll flavour local.

“At least 100 trains pass from Pathankot, yet it has no railway overbridge,” he says, reminding the voters that when Partap Bajwa won in 2009 from here, his party, Congress, ruled Delhi, and when BJP’s Vinod Khanna won two times, a BJP government was at the Centre.

Carrying on, he then touches another raw nerve of Pathankot—illegal sand mining.

The district has three assembly segments—Pathankot, Bhoa and Sujanpur. The first two have Congress legislators and Khajuria alleges that the “chit” has only passed from the Akalis to the Congress MLAs now.

Harping on the lack of development, he says there are no institutes of higher education in the area. “Dunera, a small village along the Pathankot-Dalhousie road, is thronged by tourists for its aam papad (a sweet-sour delicacy made from mangoes). But it finds no mention in the country’s tourism map. The foundry industry in Batala is floundering. Farmers have been left in the lurch on debt waiver by Congress, and the BJP has finished small traders with the GST,” he says, negotiating many issues in one salvo.

Ex-servicemen are his best bet

But its not the traders or farmers who are Khajuria’s best bet. His strength lies in the ex-servicemen. On their turf, his main target is the ‘Guardians of Governance’ scheme of the Captain Amarinder Singh government. Referring to CM’s senior adviser Lt Gen TS Shergill (retd), who is the brain behind the scheme, he warns ex-servicemen not to fall for it.

“There are nearly 1.23 lakh ex-servicemen votes in the seat. Of them, 63,000 have applied for the scheme. A certain gentlemen in the CM’s office wants to tie us to the government pay, and divide and rule upon us,” he says.

“The government is also playing a fraud on ex-servicemen by offering them a monthly honorarium of Rs 6,000, against the promise of Rs 11,000. Many retired army personnel here have already lost their savings, courtesy the cheating by Pearl’s Group,” he goes on to add.

Preparedness rests of foot soldiers

No national leader has been roped in by all three parties to campaign in the bypoll. AAP’s national convener Arvind Kejriwal is thus missing from the scene.

“There are 1.23 lakh votes of ex-servicemen, of which 63,000 have applied for ‘Guradians of Governance’ scheme.”

Though the party’s state chief Bhagwant Mann and leader of opposition, Sukhpal Khaira, have been campaigning on and off with Khajuria, his entourage has no ministers and MLAs like Jakhar or combo of Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal and his brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia, on whom Salaria is banking upon.

The party’s cadre are the real poll warriors. Though they admit the AAP lost the plot in state polls earlier this year—it won no seat in the Majha belt. However, volunteers like VP Saini, a former railway employee, have not lost hope.

“The party policy of making important state leaders fight big guns of Congress and Akali Dal backfired. We also did not choose the right candidates on many seats and feedback of volunteers was ignored. The AAP could not promise smartphones and one job per family. Our media strategy too was wrong,” he says, adding, “But the AAP cannot be written off. People will finally realise they have been cheated and that the Akalis and Congress are together.”

Voters like Manoj Kumar, an electronics shop owner in the town, claim the AAP is out of the bypoll race. Something Sukhbir turns into a prophecy. “No matter who wins, this election will prove that AAP is no more. Punjab will return back to bipolar politics,” he says.

Badal’s prophesies have not come true for his own party though.