The Congress on Sunday registered a record-shattering victory in BJP bastion of Gurdaspur with its state unit chief Sunil Kumar Jakhar winning the parliamentary bypoll with a mammoth margin of 1.93 lakh votes. Meanwhile, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a key ally in the Congress-led UDF Opposition in Kerala, retained the Vengara assembly seat by thumping its nearest rival CPM candidate in the bye-election. IUML candidate KNA Khader registered an easy victory, beating CPM nominee PP Basheer with a margin of 23,310 votes.
The Gurdaspur bypoll was initiated after the death of veteran actor and BJP MP Vinod Khanna, who had won the seat with a margin of 1.35 lakh votes in 2014. Jhakar polled 4,99,752 votes against 3,06,553 votes cast for BJP candidate and runner-up Sawarn Singh Salaria, while AAP candidate Suresh Khajuria lost his deposit securing just 23,579 votes in the election.
Jakhar shattered the record for a win with the largest vote margin on the seat previously held by former Congress MP Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder, who had won with a margin of 1.51 lakh votes nearly four decades ago. The Sunday’s victory by the Congress is now being looked upon as a momentum shifter for the party going ahead in the Gujarat assembly elections to be held later this year followed by the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
The Gurdaspur seat was considered a Congress bastion in the past before BJP handpicked a celebrity in Khanna in 1998. Vinod Khanna had won from the segment in 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2014.
Indicating it to be a referendum on three years of Modi government, Jakhar said, “I had said it from the very first day that this election will be a mandate on the policies of union government led by Modi. People have vented their anger against demonetisation and GST by making me an MP with a huge margin of votes. I had asked people to vote for me and against BJP’s economic and communal agenda. People have responded to my call and it has sent a clear message to union government on the behalf of the whole country that people are fed up with its policies and it is time for a change.”
Meanwhile, Vengara went into bypoll after its sitting MLA PK Kunjalikutty vacated the seat to get elected to Lok Sabha. CPI and BJP both failed at producing an upset on the seat, despite the recent spike in campaigns by the BJP.
Falling of vote margin in Vengara
Though IUML won the seat comfortably, there has been a considerable decline in its vote margin compared to 2016 assembly election when the party had won with a margin of over 38,000 votes. Despite the heightened campaign by the BJP in the state—against the state government— just around the bypolls, it failed to create a ripple in the political fray of the coastal state. BJP too saw its vote margin being slashed from over 7000 votes in 2016 assembly polls to 5,500 votes in the bypoll.
BJP, AAP alleges Gurdaspur election rigged
The BJP-SAD alliance in Punjab alleged that the ruling Congress party won the bye-election by misusing the government machinery. AAP, too, made similar allegations against the Congress party. AAP nominee Maj. Gen. (retd) Suresh Khajuria accused the Congress party of using “undemocratic means” to win the byelection.
None of the parties offered any evidence to support their allegations. Punjab BJP secretary Vineet Joshi and Salaria alleged the Congress misused the official machinery to win the bypoll. “They won by misusing the machinery. Everyone knows that even the sarpanches owing allegiance to the BJP and the SAD were warned that they will be dealt strictly if the two allies got a lead in their respective areas in the bypoll. Civic body officials, too, were warned,” Joshi alleged.
AAP’s state unit president Bhagwant Mann said his party accepts the mandate and will introspect the reasons for the defeat. Contrary to Congress party’s claims, Mann said the bypoll outcome would not set the tone for 2019 general election.
Kavita Khanna disappointed in bypoll results
Late BJP MP Vinod Khanna’s wife Kavita Khanna expressed her disappointment over the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll results and said the party would introspect on the reasons of the defeat. “I am very disappointed with the Gurdaspur bypoll result. I accept the outcome. The party will introspect on the reasons (of its defeat),” said Kavita. Notably, Kavita Khanna was among the front-runners for the BJP ticket for the Gurdaspur bypoll. However, the BJP chose businessman Salaria over her.
(With inputs from PTI)