The Congress on Sunday wrested the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat from the BJP, with the party’s candidate, Sunil Jakhar, winning the bypoll by a record margin of over 1.93 lakh votes. Jakhar polled 4,99,752 votes against 3,06,553 votes cast for Swaran Singh Salaria, the BJP candidate. Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Suresh Khajuria polled 23,579 votes, and lost his security deposit.
Both Salaria and Khajuria accused the Congress of using state machinery for the victory, a charge Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh denied while addressing the media in Chandigarh later.
The election was a prestige issue for the Congress, which had won the Assembly election earlier this year.
The record for the biggest victory margin for Gurdaspur seat until now lay with Congress’s Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder, who had won with a margin of 1.51 lakh votes in 1980.
The margin seems more impressive when seen against the much lower voter turnout of 56 per cent, against 70 per cent polling recorded in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna defeated Congress’s Partap Singh Bajwa by 1.36 lakh votes. The bypoll was necessitated by Khanna’s death earlier this year.
Claiming that his victory has “sent a clear message to the Central government on behalf of the whole country that people are fed up with its policies”, Jakhar said, “I had said from the beginning that this election will be a mandate on the Narendra Modi government’s policies. I had asked people to vote for me, and against the BJP’s economic and communal agenda. People have shown their anger against demonetisation and GST by making me the MP from Gurdaspur.”
Congratulating Jakhar, Amarinder told the media in Chandigarh, “The massive win for the Congress shows complete denunciation of the corrupt and immoral BJP and SAD by the people.
He said the result also underlines the political annihilation of AAP and the end of its political ambitions in Punjab. He said dissolution of AAP’s Pathankot and Gurdaspur units on the eve of the result day shows that the party had conceded defeat and accepted that it had completely failed to connect with the people of Punjab.
Emphasising that people want development, and that they realise only the Congress can deliver that, Amarinder said, “It is a record victory for us — and one of the biggest victory margins across the country. Team work and a good choice of candidate turned out to be a winning combination for us. I owe it to the party workers, who worked non-stop and ensured victory.”
Sitting beside Amarinder, Jakhar said, “This mandate has laid a foundation stone for formation of a Congress government at the Centre in 2019.”
Jakhar won in all 10 Assembly segments that come under Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency. In the Assembly election, the party had won eight of the 10 seats.
In Sujanpur, which the BJP had won in the Vidhan Sabha polls by 18,701 votes, Jakhar’s lead was 6,701 votes. At 26,255 votes, his lead was even more impressive in Batala Assembly segment, which Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) candidate Lakhbir Singh Lodhinangal had won earlier this year.
Dera Baba Nanak Assembly segment also came as a huge advantage for Jakhar — his lead there was 44,074 votes.
Former minister in the erstwhile SAD-BJP government Sucha Singh Langah, who had contested unsuccessfully from Dera Baba Nanak in 2012 and 2017 state elections, was booked in a rape case on September 28, just as the bypoll campaign was gathering momentum.
Both Jakhar and Salaria said the case, followed by Langah’s excommunication from the Sikh community by the Akal Takht, did not impact the results.
“People were angry with Sukhbir Badal and Bikram Singh Majithia. They have shown their anger against these two leaders,” Jakhar said.
Salaria said, “I have maintained that there are questions on the timing of (lodging the) rape case against Langah. But it is no reason for the defeat. I have lost because the government twisted arms of voters in SAD-controlled Assembly constituencies…because the state government used all its power and henchmen to make my supporters stay at home on the polling day and forcing others to vote for the Congress.”
AAP candidate Khajuria alleged, “The Congress (state government) has done everything to win this election. They have tampered with EVMs. They have used the police to keep voters at home.”
Former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, a minister in the Amarinder cabinet, blamed alleged corruption by SAD president and former deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal and his brother-in-law former cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia for the BJP’s defeat. He said, “It is the defeat of jeeja-saala (brothers-in-law). People have shown them their place. Now both have become burden on the BJP. Such a huge defeat is evidence of this.”