Sunil Jakhar may have lost the Assembly election in Abohar earlier this year, but he is confident he will win the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat, banking as he does on fissures between allies SAD and BJP as well as rift between local BJP leaders of the area.
As he travels from one village to another, Jakhar seems pleased with the turnout at his meetings. His theme is common – how the Badals allegedly left behind empty coffers after their 10-year rule and how he will be the voice of the farmers in Parliament because he too is a fellow farmer.
Travelling in a Toyota Fortuner driven by Gurdaspur MLA Barindermeet Singh Pahra, the state Congress president says Akalis do not want BJP to win because they feel it dumped them during the Assembly polls. “Within the BJP too, there are factions like Ashwini Sharma faction, Mohan Lal faction etc. They have a lot of work to do to get their house in order,” he says.
Jakhar is dismissive about allegations that he is an outsider from Abohar. “I am trying to get my hands on the speeches which Sukhbir Badal made when he spoke in favour of Vinod Khanna who was from Mumbai. And he won four times from here. This is a non-issue. Wasn’t Arun Jaitley an outsider in Amritsar,” he says. Though Jakhar is restrained in criticising rivals, the MLAs accompanying him are not. Kulbir Singh Zira uses some mild Punjabi slurs for local Akali leader Gurbachan Singh Babbehali as well as Akali president Sukhbir Singh Badal, drawing laughter from the crowd. But Jakhar sticks to the loan waiver announcement of Captain as well as the “disastrous” 10 years of SAD-BJP rule.
The Congress candidate is a little evasive when asked about the infighting within the Congress, with Partap Bajwa yet to join the campaign in his favour. There are already reports that local leaders owning allegiance to Bajwa are working silently against Jakhar. “His younger brother Fatehjung Bajwa is already working for me. Partap is a very senior leader, a Rajya Sabha MP. He will also definitely campaign for me,” he says.
Asked if Bajwa was yet to get over the disappointment of not being able to get a ticket for his wife, Jakhar says that perhaps the party did not feel it right that three persons from same family should be public representatives. “This would have set a precedent. The party has recognised Partap’s contribution and accommodated him. He thought his wife would be the best candidate but the party thought otherwise,” says Jakhar.
Asked if Kavita Khanna would have given him a tougher fight than Swaran Salaria, he says, “I do not think so. But people of the constituency were expecting she would be given the BJP ticket. All reasons tilted in her favour but the final decision of her party was unexpected,” Jakhar says.
Jakhar says he is not perturbed that the BJP has brought in Arun Narang, Abohar MLA who defeated him in the Assembly elections, to campaign for Salaria. “This is not a hidden fact that I lost the election. There is nothing wrong in it and I accept it. Sukhbir also lost to Jagmeet Brar. Jaitley will also come here to campaign and he lost to Capt Amarinder. People are very wise these days. They see through all this,” he says.