The only times when the BJP has won the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat was when it fielded a celebrity – a Bollywood actor to be precise. For the party workers and local leaders, it was not the question of when the central leadership will announce the candidate for this seat, it was which celebrity will it name.
So when the party announced actor Sunny Deol’s candidature from Gurdaspur, the BJP just reinforced the belief among its cadres that only a celebrity can win this seat.
“We are already excited. BJP workers have come out of their homes after getting to know that Sunny Deol will contest from Gurdaspur,” said Gursdapur BJP president Bal Krishan Mittal. Click here for more election news
For BJP, there are strong reasons why it opted to field Deol, who joined the party earlier in the day, from Gurdaspur.
The first magician for BJP: Vinod Khanna
Actor Vinod Khanna was the first to win the border constituency for BJP in 1998, that too with a margin of more than one lakh votes. Before the saffron party para-dropped Khanna, Congress leader Sukhbuns Kaur Binder had won Gurdaspur seat for her party for five times in a row. The last time she won was in 1996 when Bhinder had defeated BJP’s Jagdish Sawhney with a margin of 74,547. That was before Khanna stopped her bull run.
Khanna went on win three times in a row defeating Bhinder.
Following Khanna’s death, BJP fielded Sawarn Singh Salaria, local industrialist-turned-politician, in the bypolls to the seat in 2017. Punjab Congress president Sunil Kumar Jakhara defeated him by a margin of 1.96 lakh votes. Jakhar was an outsider.
Less than two years on, BJP is banking on a Bollywood actor as, some insiders say, it could be the only way to win the seat and close the huge vote margin.
Khanna stayed, but couldn’t maintain high margin for long
Khanna’s first victory with a huge margin of one lakh votes was followed by his narrow win just an year later in 1999 elections when Bhinder came tantalisingly close – the margin was 1399 votes.
He, however, improved the margin to 24,983 votes in 2004, the last time Bhinder contested.
Khanna was finally defeated in 2009 by Congress candidate Partap Singh Bajwa. The margin was 8342 votes.
Khanna stayed back and worked in Gurdaspur. He got several bridges constructed in the constituency.
“People of Gurdaspur now know that celebrities not only win but also work for development. Sunny Deol wouldn’t need to work hard to influence people. Khanna didn’t disappoint the masses here,” added Bal Krishan.
Gurdaspur was among few seats in Punjab where Modi effect was visible in 2014 as Khanna once again managed to win the seat with a margin of 1.36 lakh votes. It was his biggest ever victory. “Khanna won his last election not due to his stardom but because of Modi wave that had ripples in Gurdaspur. He had come to Gurdaspur as a Bollywood star but he died a politician. His last victory belonged to his politics and not to his stardom,” said a local BJP leader, not wanting to be named.
It is possible that Modi wave may work for Deol too.
Terror attacks, Modi and Sunny Deol
Gurdaspur constituency has seen two terrorist attacks in the last five years – in 2015 at Dinanagar police station and in 2016 at Pathankot airport station. One CRPF soldier from Gurdaspur was killed in Pulwama terror attack earlier this year. The Balakot airstrike may help BJP swing the votes.
“Deol has acted in many movies in which he thrashed Pakistani terrorists. Modi is also tough on Pakistanis and terrorists. There is no doubt that Deol will be in competition from the very first day. His stardom will definitely bring in votes in BJP favour,” said a local right wing leader.
BJP and SAD in trouble
in 2017 assembly polls, BJP contested four out of the nine assembly segments in Gurdaspur and Pathankot but could win only one – Sujanpur. The Shiromani Akali Dal also performed poorly and it could secure only Batala seat that too due to division of votes between Congress and Aam Aadmi Party candidates. Meanwhile, Akali Dal has suffered a political loss with its senior leader and former minister Sewa Singh Sekhwan quitting the party to help establish SAD (Taksali) last year. His departure has weakened the party. SAD also had to expel its another tall leader, Sucha Singh Langah, after he was excommunicated by Akal Takht following registration of a rape case against him. He was later acquittal in the rape case.
Not easy road for Jakhar too
Meanwhile, for Jakhar, the Congress candidate, the going won’t be easy. It is likely that he will get former party president and former Gurdaspur MP Partap Singh Bajwa to campaign for him. Bajwa has expressed resentment publicly many times over Jakhar’s candidature.
Jakhar won the seat when Congress government in state was still enjoying its honeymoon period. The anti-incumbency against the state government will be a factor against Jakhar now.
The rape case against Langah was also registered just before the by-election in 2017 and it played a major role in victory of Jakhar. Now Langah stands acquitted in the case.
In 2017, all the state ministers had campaigned for him. This time, he will have to present his report card too. Also, Jakhar doesn’t enjoy a very good relation with Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh.
Pathankot has a sizeable Rajput community. Congress party had displayed its control over Rajput community during the release of movie Padmaavat last year. Pathankot and Gurdaspur were the only districts where Rajput community decided to not oppose the release of the movie. This at a time when Rajputs across India were protesting against the movie.
Congress also has an edge with a hold over the Gujjar vote bank. The tension between the local Hindu leaders and Gujjar community leaders, who are mostly Muslims, has escalated after the two major terror attacks.
The Christian vote bank is divided between all the parties. The SAD has in the past worked to consolidate this vote bank. It will be interesting to watch if Akalis can transfer these votes to BJP candidate.
Jatt identity of Sunny
Deol is also known for his Jatt identity, both in movies and in general. This identity can win him votes in the rural areas of Gurdaspur. However, loud exhibition of Jatt identify can also hurt him the urban segments.