Gurdaspur bypoll on Oct 11. Political parties still struggle to find candidates
Gurdaspur will go to polls on 11 October, the Election Commission of India announced Tuesday. The Punjab Lok Sabha constituency fell vacant after the death of actor Vinod Khanna. The natural question now is who will represent it in Parliament next.
In fact, it has become somewhat challenging for all three chief contenders – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that Khanna represented, the Congress (which earlier held the seat) and new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – to find worthy candidates, sources said.
The by-election is important as it will be the first major trial for the parties after the Assembly elections that were held earlier this year. It may set the tone for the local body elections to follow soon.
Why is it tough to get candidates?
First, the General Elections are anyway scheduled to be held by 2019, and hardly any politician is interested for a mere one-and-a-half-year term. This despite the seat being a high-profile seat represented by Khanna and Pratap Singh Bajwa, who earlier led the Congress in Punjab.
Second, strife and one-upmanship within political parties has complicated the process of finalising candidates. Each party has its own set of problems actually.
The Congress is in the driver’s seat after Captain Amarinder Singh led it to am emphatic victory in the Assembly polls. It is desperate to recapture the seat and send out a message that its popularity has not waned and alsothat is would start favourites in the local body polls.
The party swept the Majha region in the Assembly polls. And Amarinder took this year’s state-level Independence Day celebrations to Gurdaspur, showering sops for the area.
But none of the party’s senior leaders want to contest.
Leaders like Preneet Kaur and Sunil Jakhar have already opted out, sources said. There was a move to field cricketer Yuvraj Singh, but he too is not keen to. Cricketer Harbhajan Singh has also been discussed, but nothing concrete has come out of it.
A group in the Congress thinks instead of a celebrity a serious politician should be fielded to lay the grounds for 2019. Bajwa’s wife Charanjit Kaur Bajwa is keen to contest, sources said. Bajwa and Amarinder are in opposite camps within the party. Several MLAs from the Majha region who got tickets thanks to Amarinder are also opposed to Charanjit's candidature.
Amarinder is currently in the United Kingdom, so it is expected that a candidate will be finalised once he returns.
Gurdaspur is the home turf of Succha Singh Chhotepur, whom the AAP unceremoniously sacked as state convener ahead of the Assembly polls, after internal feud. He went on to form Apna Punjab Party (APP) that did considerable damage to the AAP, which failed to open its account in Maajha.
The AAP has reportedly sought applications from prospective candidates but again hardly any politician is keen to seek re-election so soon. The party is looking for a good performance to claim relevance in Punjab politics.
Khanna's wife Kavita Khanna remains a prominent contender. She is expected to benefit from the legacy of her husband, who won Gurdaspur four times.
The celebs apart, local leader Swaran Salaria is being seen as a dark horse. The BJP will, of course, contest the polls in alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
The BJP is keen to retain the seat to demolish the perception that it has lost ground in Punjab – its Assembly tally was a mere three. Demonetisation cost the party dearly in Punjab, with several Hindu traders shifting to the Congress.
'Modi magic' will also be on test, so the party is not taking any chances. Its state President Vijay Sampla and Punjab Affairs In-charge Prabhat Jha are camping in the constituency.
The Congress and the BJP may both airdrop candidates from outside, some observers think. The winner’s tenure may be short, but this election has become a matter of prestige.
Gazette notification on 15 September
Nominations to be filed by 22 September
Nominations can be withdrawn by 27 September
Polling on 11 October
Results on October 15.
Edited by Joyjeet Das