The byelection for the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat delivered a welcome boost for the Congress ahead of the politically significant Gujarat polls with party nominee Sunil Jakhar winning with a thumping margin of over 1.93 lakh votes.
Congress leaders were quick to hail the win as a “Diwali gift” for Rahul Gandhi who is due to take charge as Congress president soon. Though the win in a Lok Sabha byelection has limited significance for assembly elections in Gujarat – where BJP is seen as the frontrunner — and Himachal Prades, where it is posing a strong challenge, the margin of victory will be satisfying for the Congress which has not had much luck at the hustings in the past three years.
The Gurdaspur byelection gives Congress an opportunity to change the narrative somewhat in its favour. The election was caused by the death of film icon Vinod Khanna who had romped home on a BJP ticketin 2014. Khanna had won in Gurdaspur in 1998, 1999, and 2004 before the constituency was redrawn following delimitation in 2008. He lost in 2009 but won again in 2014. Aam Aadmi Party was third but the race was clearly dominated by Congress with Jakhar maintaining a lead right from the start of the counting of votes.
The contest was essentially between Congress and BJP with Jakhar polling 4,99,752 votes, way ahead of SAD-BJP candidate Swaran Salaria’s 3,06,533.
AAP’s Suresh Khajuria, a former Army officer, polled 23,579 votes and lost his security deposit, indicating that the party’s fortunes in the state are yet to revive.
Congress had put up its state chief, risking the annoyance of some quarters in the party but the result indicates that the Amarinder Singh government that assumed office earlier this year retains popular support in the region. The Congress win and the margin also indicate that the SAD-BJP combine has a lot of hard work ahead of it if it is going to change the trend in the state ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The win also showcased Amarinder’s command of the party as Jakhar’s nomination was seen to have been at odds with Rajya Sabha MP and former PPCC president Partap Singh Bajwa, who hails from Qadian in Gurdaspur district. BJP had fielded industrialist Swaran Salaria over Kavita Khanna, widow of former MP Vinod Khanna, while AAP decided on Suresh Khajuria, banking on his Rajput lineage.
Speaking to reporters, Jakhar said his victory was that of Congress party’s policies and development in the state. It (his win) also indicated people’s disenchantment with the Union government, he added. “Jakhar’s victory has come as a strong rebuttal to the persistent Akali efforts and their campaign of the past six months to undermine the work done by my government in the state. For AAP, this election marks the end of its political ambitions in Punjab,” chief minister Amarinder Singh said.
However, Salaria cried foul and blamed Congress and the administration for his defeat. “The elections were Salaria versus Congress and the administration. They used all tricks of trade for the victory of their candidate,” he alleged. He also claimed that he had gained in BJP-dominated areas, while SAD had lost in five assembly constituencies with over 1.7 lakh votes.
“But I am a fighter and will ensure my presence in the constituency more strongly. I will contest in the ensuing general elections,” he said. AAP’s Khajuria said, “I accept it (the poll results) gracefully. We will sit and analyse the external and internal causes.”