Amid voices of support for Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Sunil Jakhar to contest Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll, scheduled for October 11, a tug of war has started between his and former PPCC president Partap Singh Bajwa’s camps. While sources in Congress say Jakhar’s name was finalised by the Punjab unit of the party and was just awaiting a stamp from AICC vice president Rahul Gandhi before announcement, it appears his candidature would not be without opposition from within the party. Jakhar enjoys support of most of the party MLAs from Gurdaspur. Fielding him could mean that most of the MLAs would work for his victory. The bypoll is seen as a litmus test for ruling Congress as it would be the first election after it wrested power in the state.
Jakhar had emerged as a unanimous choice of all seven party MLAs from Gurdaspur at a recent meeting held under his chairmanship. Led by Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, all MLAs openly sided with Jakhar. However, on Monday, Bajwa’s younger brother, Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa, sitting MLA from Qadian, and Balwinder Singh Laddi, another MLA from Hargobindpur, demanded that the party ticket should be given to a local leader and Partap Bajwa, who is Rajya Sabha MP from Gurdsapur, should be involved in the selection.
Fateh was not available for comments. Sources said several leaders in Congress tried to contact him through the day after newspapers reported his demand, but he remained out of reach. They added that Fateh had assured his support to Jakhar vociferously at the legislators meeting.
Jakhar, who had refused to contest the byelection earlier, told The Indian Express on Tuesday that if the party would ask him to contest then he would. “It all depends on the party,” he said. Sources said he was tilting towards taking a plunge after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh made it clear to Gurdaspur MLAs that he had no objection if they were able to persuade Jakhar to contest.
While Jakhar’s name is largely acceptable to party leaders, his entry in Gurdapur, home turf of Bajwas’ may not be acceptable to the family.
Partap Bajwa was an MP from Gurdaspur from 2009 to 2014. His wife, Charanjit Kaur Bajwa, was a former MLA from Qadian constituency, now represented by his brother. Bajwa’s wife left her claim on Qadian this Assembly election to make way for her brother-in-law. Sources close to Bajwa claim that after the one-family-one-ticket diktat ahead of Assembly election, Bajwa was promised that his wife would be considered for the Lok Sabha election in 2019 as Amarinder’s wife Preneet Kaur, who left her seat for her husband, is likely to contest parliamentary elections from Patiala.
But a seat got vacated earlier. Bajwa’s wife is a contender for the ticket. If an “outsider” gets a ticket from Gurdaspur at thisjuncture, it may become difficult for the Bajwas to stake a claim in 2019.
Also, Bajwa and Jakhar’s enmity goes back to the days when Bajwa was named the PPCC chief in 2013. While most MLAs of the party ralliedbehind Bajwa, Jakhar never sided with him. He backed Amarinder instead.
Jakhar, being a CLP leader then, played an important role in getting MLAs back with Amarinder, who was finally handed over the reins of the party by the high command. Jakhar never invited Bajwa for the CLP meetings.
Before Jakhar, several MLAs have been pitching for Preneet Kaur to contest from Gurdaspur. But she is learnt to have refused as she wants to focus on Patiala. She had lost to AAP’s Dharamvir Gandhi during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.