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At 56%, Gurdaspur sees dismal turnout

The seat, which fell vacant following the death of actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna of the BJP in April, is witnessing a three-cornered race among Congress, BJP and AAP contestants.

punjab Updated: Oct 12, 2017 09:24 IST
Nikhil Sharma and Vinay Dhingra
Nikhil Sharma and Vinay Dhingra
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Gurdaspur election,Punjab,Vinod Khanna
A queue at a polling station in the village Kala Afghana in Batala under the Gurdaspur LS segment on Wednesday, October 11. (Sameer Sehgal/HT)

The high-stakes Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll on Wednesday witnessed a dismal 56% voter turnout as compared to the 70% in the 2014 general elections. There were only stray incidents of violence, including one in Qadian. The counting and results are scheduled for October 15.

In all, 15.2 lakh people were eligible to vote in the bypoll necessitated by the death of incumbent Vinod Khanna of the BJP in April. Though there were 11 candidates, it was considered primarily a three-horse race between BJP candidate Swaran Salaria, Congress’ Sunil Jakhar and Aam Aadmi Party’s Maj Gen Suresh Kumar Khajuria (retd). While Jakhar sought to pitch it as a referendum on the Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre ahead of the 2019 general elections, many saw it also as a barometer for the popularity of the seven-month-old Congress government in Punjab.

The polling commenced at 8 am with lukewarm response, and continued at a sluggish pace till 5 pm. Of the nine assembly segments that fall under the constituency, Dera Baba Nanak registered the maximum turnout at 65%. It was Batala that recorded the lowest at 50%.

Fatehgarh Churian saw 63% voting, while 60% voters exercised their franchise in Bhoa, and 57 % in Qadian. At 54%, Pathankot, Sujanpur, Dinanagar and Gurdaspur (assembly seat) were clubbed on the turnout table.

Khajuria alleges ‘dirt tactics’

High drama was witnessed at a polling booth in Pangoli village in Sujanpur where AAP’s Khajuria came along with his wife Tripta Khajuria and son Rohit Kahjuria to cast his vote, and landed in a verbal spat with a Congress worker who accused him of “influencing voters” inside the polling booth.

Khajuria later filed a complaint with the Election Commission against the man, identified as Rajeshwar Singh. The complaint read, “The Congress agent had virtually ceased the booth. He guided the people going right up to the polling machine. He even didn’t spare me. The polling staff requested him not to stand near the polling machine but he refused to oblige.”

Talking to HT, Khajuria said the Congress is resorting to “dirty tactics” to woo voters. He had heated arguments also with policemen there, and threatened to get them sacked for negligence of duty.

Rajesh Kumar, the presiding officer, too said Rajeshwar refused to listen to his repeated requests. But Rajeshwar said he was just standing inside the room to keep a check on the proceedings and didn’t influence any voter.

An elderly voter with family and other voters at Chak Minhasa in Sujanpur under the Gurdaspur parliamentary segment on Wednesday, October 11. ( HT Photo )
Voters in a queue to cast votes for the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll at Pangoli village in Pathankot. ( Sameer Sehgal/HT )
Voters show their identity cards as they wait to cast their votes for Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll at Pangoli village in Pathankot. ( Sameer Sehgal/HT )
Voters shows their marked fingers after casting their votes at Pathankot for the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll on Wednesday, October 11. ( Sameer Sehgal/HT )

Salaria, Jakhar’s tall claims

Khajuria reiterated his claim that the contest is only between the AAP and Congress. “Salaria doesn’t stand a chance anyway. People are fed up of the false promises and poor administration by both the governments. And it is the time for change here.”

Swaran Salaria and his mother Sito Salaria voted around 9.30 am at their native village Chauhana in Dinanagar. “BJP won with a margin of 1.4 lakh votes last time, and I am sure of registering an even bigger win. People will discard Sunil Jakhar who was not accepted by the people of his own constituency, Abohar, in the assembly polls,” he said.

Jakhar, asked to comment also on the low turnout, said, “It was a one-horse race as the attendance at the BJP booths was meagre. There was no enthusiasm among BJP supporters and thus they avoided polling their votes too, leading to low polling percentage.”

Senior citizens steal show

Amid the low turnout, elders voters were seen in large numbers at the polling booths, while anecdotal evidence suggested low enthusiasm among younger citizens.

Janla Devi, 102, at Chak Manhasa village in Sujanpur was among the voters. “I am glad to use my right to vote even at the age of 102. It saddens me to see the unemployed youth in Punjab and poor health facilities. I hope that the victorious candidate will work for the welfare of the people and keep promises.”

Some enthused senior citizens came to vote despite medical conditions.

For security, 30 companies of paramilitary forces and 7,000 state police personnel were deployed at the 1,781 polling stations.

First Published: Oct 11, 2017 09:53 IST