BJP candidate for the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll Swarn Singh Salaria on Saturday said he did not expect a contest from the Congress and AAP nominees in the by-election and exuded confidence that the saffron party would retain the seat with a “massive” margin. The Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat, a stronghold of the BJP, fell vacant after the sitting MP, actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna, died of cancer in a Mumbai hospital on April 27. Khanna was a four-time MP from Gurdaspur.
The BJP had, on September 21, named Salaria as its candidate for the October 11 bypoll. Khanna’s wife Kavita was also a frontrunner for the BJP ticket in the bypoll. Salaria (63), a business tycoon, lashed out at Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh for the latter’s remarks against him.
Singh had yesterday taken a jibe at Salaria saying, “What can he (Salaria) do for the (Gurdaspur) constituency when he failed to run his own medical college in Chintpurni (in Pathankot), jeopardising the careers of 1,800 students.”
He had also said the high court had ordered the closure of the college and the state government had sought permission from the Medical Council of India (MCI) to accommodate the students in other medical colleges of the state.
Asked to respond to Singh’s remarks, Salaria said, “The Chintpurni medical college was shut when I took over. I tried to revive it. You (Singh) should support and admire me for this. The college is in Punjab and it is your (Singh’s) responsibility as well to run it.” He also rejected Singh’s claims that he had approached him for a Congress ticket in the bypoll. “He (Singh) is a senior leader and I respect him a lot. He should not level such false allegations,” Salaria said. “I am a successful businessman. I own an airline, hotels, restaurants and a security company. I have a workforce of more than 70,000 people,” he added.
Salaria said he did not expect any contest in the bypoll. “This seat belongs to the BJP and we will again win it with a huge margin,” he told PTI. The Congress has fielded senior leader Sunil Jakhar in the bypoll, while Major General (retd) Suresh Kumar Khajuria of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is also in the fray.
Salaria took potshots at both at Jakhar and Khajuria. “Jakhar has been brought from a distance of 400 km (from Gurdaspur) by the Congress to fight the bypoll. How can he win it,” he wondered. On the AAP candidate, Salaria said, “Khajuria has never been seen working for the welfare of the people of this constituency.” He claimed that he had been serving the people of the area for the last 15 years.
“My family members, including my mother, sister, live in Gurdaspur and Pathankot,” said Salaria, who is a native of the Chauhana village in Gurdaspur. He said he would take the achievements of the Narendra Modi government to the voters while seeking their votes. “I will highlight the achievements and policies of the three-year-old Modi government at the Centre when I go to the people to seek their votes. There are several initiatives, such as demonetisation and GST, taken by the government. Moreover, there is no allegation of corruption of even a single paisa against this government,” Salaria said.
The BJP candidate in the bypoll also said he would “expose” the Congress government in Punjab for “failing to honour even a single promise it had made to the voters” before the state Assembly polls earlier this year. “What has the Congress done in the last six months? They had made tall claims before the voters and now they are funding themselves unable to live up to their expectations. The people are angry with them,” he claimed.