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Gurdaspur bypoll: How Amarinder wants to snatch a seat from BJP

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 16 August 2017, 16:45 IST
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh receives a bouquet from a group of girl students during Independence Day celebrations, in Gurdaspur on Tuesday. (PTI)

Independence Day saw Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder roll the dice on behalf of the Congress for the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll scheduled to be held soon. Amarinder chose to hold the state-level celebrations in this border district.

After the emphatic Congress victory in the State Assembly polls, this will be the first litmus test for the party as it faces a contest with the BJP and also the new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The seat had fallen vacant on 27 April with the demise of the sitting MP Vinod Khanna of the BJP.

It seems like every bypoll is becoming a pitched battle between the Congress and the BJP. And Congress sees it as a chance to sweep away one more Lok Sabha seat and increase its tally in the House.

Piling on the perks

On Tuesday Amarinder announced a series of projects for the holistic development of the border areas of both Gurdaspur and Pathankot, including health and education infrastructure. This included 67,000 MNREGA cards that would be issued to beneficiaries in Gurdaspur and 30,000 in Pathankot. This was the first time that a state-level Independence Day function was being held in Gurdaspur.

Fulfilling a long pending demand of the Gurdaspur district, Amarinder announced a new state-of-the-art bus stand to be constructed at a cost of Rs. 20 crore. In addition, Rs 84 crore have been set aside for making toilets and providing water connections to all rural households in the district.

Amarinder further earmarked Rs 2.5 crore for the upgradation of the infrastructure of police stations in Gurdaspur, Batala and Pathankot.

He said that though the Gurdaspur Civil Hospital has been shifted to the outskirts, the dispensary with the emergency unit, as well as maternity and child care ward would continue to function from the old building in the city.

Amarinder further said that the water supply and sewerage works in Gurdaspur would be completed at Rs 7.50 crore and another Rs 18 crore has been released for development projects in Dera Baba Nanak and other areas of the district.

Playing up the issue of development in the border areas, Amarinder announced the allocation of Rs. 44.02 crore for health infrastructure upgradation and Rs 118 crore for school infrastructure upgradation in Gurdaspur while another Rs 45 crore has been allocated for disbursement under the old age pension scheme.

A new Sainik School in village Dalla Gorian will also be set up along with a Navodaya Vidyalaya in Fatehgarh Churian. The civil hospital in Fatehgarh Churian will also be upgraded.

Amarinder also announced a new revenue sub-division and a railway over the bridge in Dina Nagar and a new degree college at Kalanaur.

Among other development initiatives, he announced the construction of a new bus stand at Qadian, along with 100% water supply and sewerage facility at a cost of Rs 32 crore. The government has also decided to set up a new hospital, in addition to 100% water supply and sewerage in village Ghumaan in Sri Hargobindpur.

He also went on to inaugurate the new Gurdaspur District Administrative Complex constructed at a cost of Rs 50 crores.

Getting the job done?

In his Independence Day speech, Amarinder appealed to farmers not to resort to suicide while announcing his government’s decision to provide jobs to 50,000 youth in the first phase of the 'Ghar Ghar Mein Naukri' scheme.

He said that Rozgar Melas (Job Fairs) would be held across the state to implement his government’s election promise to provide employment to the unemployed youth.

Besides all this, just a week go he had approved, in principle, the proposal of the state police to set up an elite specially trained Special Operations Group (SOG), with a clear mandate to neutralise armed aggressors and to combat terrorism, infiltration, hijacking, hostage-taking and other sensitive threat situations.

Being a border district, Gurdaspur has faced the problem of drug menace and terrorist attacks. The attack on the police station in Dina Nagar in 2015 is still fresh in public memory.

Right from the campaign for the Assembly polls, Amarinder has been consistently playing up his zero tolerance on any attempt to vitiate the peace in the state.

The contours of the proposed SOG, a “small but effective” 270-member young and dynamic team, were discussed at a meeting chaired by him where he had also suggested that a small core team from the SOG could be sent to Israel for the latest and state-of-the-art counter insurgency training. A formal proposal for setting up the SOG is likely to come up before the State cabinet soon.

Amarinder has directed that the process to identify officers and personnel for the SOG, who would be drawn from various police departments, should commence immediately. The CM also suggested that once the SOG takes shape all other specialised units like commandos and Special Weapons and Tactics Units (SWAT) should be merged with it.

Gearing up

Besides the Congress, the other two main political forces – the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine and AAP – too have started the groundwork for the Gurdaspur bypoll.

The Akalis had concentrated on the area during their 'Jabar Virodhi Leher' programme carried out in late July where former chief minister and SAD patriarch Parkash Singh Badal, along with his son and SAD president Sukhbir Badal, had played up the issue of implicating of Akali workers in false cases.

The former chief minister had hit out at Amarinder as he alleged that the Congress government has failed to honour even a single promise it had made to the voters ahead of the Assembly polls.

“We have formed a committee of advocates and will provide legal help to party workers whenever the need arises. We will not allow any injustice with our workers,” Badal said while adding that he will meet Akali workers in Chandigarh for four days every month to listen to their grievances.

The Akalis had also raised these issues on the occasion of the Rakhar Punia fair at Baba Bakala last week.

AAP has also launched its campaign for the seat at the event where it was left to cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu to bat for the Congress.

Putting up an impressive show of strength, all the state leaders including party president Bhagwant Mann, leader of opposition in Punjab assembly Sukhpal Singh Khaira and other AAP MLAs had gathered at the event where Bhagwant Mann attacked the SAD-BJP combine and the Congres of having a secret pact to keep AAP away from power.

Mann said that the two parties are well aware of the fact that in case the control of state comes into the hands of AAP, illegal businesses being run by Akali-Congress in a partnership will come to halt and their nefarious designs will stand exposed in front of the public.

Mann said the sole objective of Congress was to grab power and after formation of the government, Amarinder is running away from fulfilling most of the promises made during the polls.

Rules soon

The Election Commission is expected to announce the schedule for the Gurdaspur bypoll soon.

Unlike the last several occasions, this will be a triangular contest. The Congress is keen to wrest the seat back from the BJP and continue its winning spree after the assembly polls.

The BJP will go all out to retain it and send across a strong message of its presence in the state where its seat tally in the assembly polls had fallen to just three. It had contested 23 seats. Its performance in Punjab had been the worst among all the states that had gone to polls in February.

AAP will try to improve its show in the polls to make its presence felt in the Majha region. This is the region where it had failed to win even a single seat in the assembly polls despite its then president Gurpreet Singh Waraich aka Ghuggi belonging to this belt. The parties are yet to announce their candidates for this seat yet.

First published: 16 August 2017, 16:45 IST