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Filling in Vinod Khanna's seat: Why the Gurdaspur bypoll will be a battle to watch out for

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 15 May 2017, 19:32 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

The Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat fell vacant after Lok Sabha member Vinod Khanna passed away. The bypoll to this seat promises to be a high-profile potboiler as it will redefine the politics in the state in terms of new permutations and combinations withing the parties.

Khanna was a sitting Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine member with star value. The Congress would definitely want to win this seat and maintain its winning tempo from the recently held state Assembly elections.

The seat remains equally important for the BJP that would want to retain it with an impressive margin.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) too is expected to contest the seat and leave a mark, given the fact that it had done miserably in the Majha area despite its former state convener Gurpreet Singh Waraich aka Ghuggi, belonging to that area.

Even though the schedule for the bypoll is yet to be announced, the build-up to the battle has begun.

The right names

The first issue is that of the party candidates. In the case of the BJP, Khanna's wife Kavita Khanna is being seen as a front runner although names of their son Akshaye Khanna along with other Bollywood stars Akshay Kumar, Rishi Kapoor and even Raveena Tandon and Sunny Deol are also reportedly doing the rounds.

Akshay Kumar has reportedly denied his being in contention for the ticket.

Observers say that the BJP wants to retain this seat with a handsome margin and is likely to combine star power and political power for the process.

The politician Khanna

Khanna had stormed this Congress stronghold in 1998 after defeating five-time MP Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder. He retained the seat for the next two polls but lost to former state Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa in 2009.

He again made a comeback in 2014 with his candidature being backed by senior BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani. This was at a time when there were attempts to give the ticket to Mumbai-based industrialist Swaran Salaria who was supported by a powerful lobby that included Yoga guru Baba Ramdev.

Khanna was given the ticket at the eleventh hour and went on thrash Bajwa by a huge margin of more than 1.38 lakh votes.

He is often referred to as the 'Bridge man' as he is credited by his followers for having got built a bridge across Beas river connecting Mukerian and Gurdaspur along with another one on the Ujh river in Pathankot.

Khanna's performance in the Lok Sabha was often criticised but his wife Kavita has the reputation of having nurtured his constituency well despite his long absences from the constituency.

Besides the names of Bollywood personalities doing the rounds, the other serious political contenders for the BJP ticket on this seat include the Sujanpur MLA Dinesh Singh Babbu, former state BJP chief Avinash Rai Khanna along with another former state BJP chief and former Pathankot MLA Ashwani Sharma.

The competition

More interesting to watch would be the choice of the candidate made by the Congress. This is the home turf of Rajya Sabha member and former Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Bajwa who is seen as the arch rival of current Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.

Amarinder had succeeded Bajwa as the Congress president before going on to become the chief minister.

Sources say that Bajwa is keen to get the bypoll ticket for his wife Charanjeet Kaur and has been trying to mend fences with Amarinder. It is in this context that a dinner hosted by Bajwa's brother and Qadian MLA Fateh Jung Singh Bajwa in which both the Bajwa couple and Amarinder were guests, has become the talk of the political circles.

“Bajwa knows that Amarinder has complete say in the party affairs in Punjab. This is evident from the recent appointment of Sunil Jakhar as the new Congress chief in the state. It is obvious that the party candidate would need his stamp of approval. What remains to be seen is how Amarinder reacts to the situation. On one side it is the common belief that the Bajwas are the best bet for the Congress and on the other is the opportunity for Amarinder to decimate his rival, although possibly at the cost of a Lok Sabha seat. This makes the bypoll all the more interesting,” said an observer.

The other name doing the rounds as a possible Congress candidate is that of Dera Baba Nanak MLA Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, a former president of the Gurdaspur district Congress committee.

AAP-ing the odds

AAP too is expected to contest the bypoll but it is going to be an uphill journey for the party on various counts. To begin with, the morale of the party cadres is at an all time low. The cadres have been left disheartened after the party failed to emerge victorious in the recent Assembly polls despite a huge hype.

Then, the party's performance was very poor in the Majha region of which Gurdaspur is a part.

This is also the home turf of former state convener Succha Singh Chhotepur who was sacked by the party last year on charges of corruption. He went on to form the Apna Punjab Party (APP) which failed to win any seat but caused immense damage to AAP's prospects in the region.

The ongoing developments in the party at the national level too are going to have a bearing on its prospects.

According to media reports, senior AAP leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who recently quit as party's chief whip and spokesperson after Bhagwant Mann was appointed the new state convener, said at a media briefing that under the prevailing conditions the party may lose the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha by-election and the municipal corporation and the panchayat polls in Punjab.

“There is an element of disappointment among volunteers and the graph of the party, after it reportedly drifted away from its principles, has been going down. Despite the possible losses in the Municipal Corporation elections and the bypoll, AAP can bounce back in the 2019 parliamentary elections if it returns to original principles and ideas,” he is reported to have said.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 15 May 2017, 17:49 IST