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Knives out between SAD, BJP after Gurdaspur rout

A frontal attack came from the SAD with its prominent leader from the Bania community and former Bathinda MLA Sarup Chand Singla blaming the policies of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre as the “biggest reason”.

punjab Updated: Oct 16, 2017 22:27 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Gurdaspur bypoll,Punujab politics,Punjab news
Akali MLA from Bathinda, Sarup Chand Singla (left) blamed Modi government at Centre for the Gurdaspur loss; while Punjab BJP president Vijay Sampla (right) termed it as a defeat of the alliance.(HT Photos)

Chandigarh

A day after facing a humiliating defeat in the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll, differences between alliance partners Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came out in the open. Both blamed the other for the rout against the Congress’ Sunil Jakhar.

A frontal attack came from the SAD with its prominent leader from the Bania community and former Bathinda MLA Sarup Chand Singla blaming the policies of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre as the “biggest reason”.

“Its a verdict on their (BJP) performance rather than the (seven-month) rule of the Congress in Punjab. Our president Sukhbir Singh Badal worked day and night for the success of the BJP candidate (Swaran Salaria), but people were totally annoyed with the anti-people policies of the Modi government. It’s the result of central government ‘anti-trader’ policies,” said Singla in a press conference in Bathinda on Sunday afternoon, hours after the result. He was referring to implementation of GST and the demonetisation of high-value currency notes before that.

After the SAD leader’s statement went viral on Monday, the BJP — which held the seat until the MP Vinod Khanna’s death in April necessitated the bypoll — immediately reached out to the SAD for restraining its leaders from speak against Prime Minister Modi in the media. “Singla made the statement in his personal capacity,” insisted state BJP chief and Union minister Vijay Sampla, adding, “After I talked to SAD spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema, asking him if Singla’s stand was the SAD’s official stand, the SAD distanced itself from the statement. Singla also clarified the issue to his party on Monday. It’s a defeat of the alliance, not an individual party.” When HT contacted Singla, he refused to comment, while Cheema’s phone was switched off on Monday evening.

Dissecting data

But others in the BJP sought to counter Singla’s statement with a play of data. “If you look at the results and compare with the state polls held earlier this year, the BJP has regained its hold in the assembly constituencies traditionally contested by the party.

In Dinanagar, we lost the assembly poll by 31, 917 votes; but in the LS bypoll now, the margin reduced to 11,387. In Bhoa, similarly, we lost assembly poll by 27,496 votes but this time the margin was 7,796. In Pathankot too, the winning margin reduced from 11,170 to 8,710,” a state secretary of the party, who did not want to be named, said.

Congress’ Sunil Jakhar led in each of the nine assembly segments that fall in the LS constituency, in each of the 15 counting rounds. In light of the data given by the BJP state secretary, it must also be mentioned that Sujanpur, the only one out of the four segments that the BJP contested there, it had a winning margin of 18,701. But Congress led by 6,801 votes in the LS bypoll.

More data was cited by a former state BJP chief: “SAD leaders are blaming GST for the poor show, but they forget that of the Congress’s total winning margin of 1.9 lakh, no less than 1.6 lakh votes have come from the constituencies (five out of nine) contested by the SAD. Their party chief Sukhbir Badal camped in these constituencies for 10 days.”

Whose sleaze hurt?

The “biggest factor” cited by the BJP — whose candidate Swaran Salaria’s private pictures went viral during the poll campaign — is the video showing former Akali minister Sucha Singh Langah having sex with a woman who filed a rape FIR against him. He is in jail now.

Sampla too told HT that the timing of the leak of Langah’s video was such that “it didn’t give any time for the alliance partners to control the damage”. “The episode just broke the backbone of our campaign and we could not recover,” he said.

Sampla, who met Sukhbir in Delhi on Monday evening to discuss the results, added, “This defeat is a lesson for us and we will introspect to find out exactly what went wrong in our planning.”

The blame game will come as music to the ears of chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who had desisted from attacking the BJP and blamed the SAD for the alliance’s defeat in the bypoll. “The SAD has become the albatross around the neck of the BJP,” Amarinder had said after the victory.

First Published: Oct 16, 2017 22:24 IST