Prime Minister Narendra Modi also tweeted a picture with Deol and used the "Hindustan zindabad..." dialogue.
The ageing hero meets the poll hardened warhorse in the border constituency of Gurdaspur with a dash of filmy flair as political novice and BJP candidate Sunny Deol, action star of the 1990s, contests against Congress’ sitting MP Sunil Jakhar. With the BJP making national security its poll plank in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, 62-year-old Deol, popular for his role in ‘patriotic’ films like “Border” and “Gadar: Ek Prem Katha”, fits in well with the saffron party’s scheme of things.
The actor has been playing his part, sometimes holding aloft a handpump, referencing a scene from “Gadar…”, a high-pitched drama on Partition and its aftermath, and other times mouthing dialogues from his popular films — wooing voters with a thundering “Dhai kilo ka hath” from the 1993 film “Damini” or “Hindustan zindabad hai, zindabad rahega” from “Gadar…”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also tweeted a picture with Deol and used the “Hindustan zindabad…” dialogue. Deol’s father, legendary star Dharmendra, has been campaigning for him as well. Acknowledging that he doesn’t know much about politics, Deol calls himself a “patriot”.
Faced with the accusation of being an outsider with no knowledge of Punjab issues, he has tried to silence his critics saying, “I am not here to reply to what all is being said. I have come here to work and serve people and do my job.” This is the second time the BJP is playing a celebrity card in Gurdaspur.
The party had earlier nominated actor Vinod Khanna from Gurdaspur in 1998 and managed to unseat veteran Congress leader and five-time MP Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder. Jakhar, 64, won the seat in 2017 following Khanna’s death. Deol, a Jat Sikh whose real name is Ajay Singh Deol, attracted huge crowds with his first roadshow, giving the BJP enough confidence to smell a win.
However, his political rival Jakhar, MP and three-time MLA from the Abohar assembly seat under Ferozepur Lok Sabha constituency, is unimpressed. “So far, he (Deol) has not shown here anything beyond dialogue delivery and that is causing concern among voters here,” Jakhar told PTI.
Taking a dig at the actor, Jakhar said the BJP nominee will prove to be a misfit in politics and has shown nothing “beyond film dialogue delivery”. His “charm without any substance” will fade away soon, said Jakhar. He said he is banking on development projects and reminds people of the Congress’ contribution for the Kartarpur Sahib corridor which will enable devotees to visit Gurdwara Sahib in Kartarpur, the final resting place of founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev in Pakistan.
The BJP may be sure of registering a win by encashing Deol’s popularity, but it won’t be easy, add political watchers. Of the nine assembly constituencies in Gurdaspur parliamentary constituency, seven — Dera Baba Nanak, Fatehgarh Churian, Pathankot, Dinanagar, Qadian, Gurdaspur and Bhoa — are represented by MLAs of the state’s ruling Congress. Of the other two, Batala is with the Shiromani Akali Dal and Sujanpur with the BJP. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has already warned his ministers and MLAs to “perform or perish”.
Gurdaspur was traditionally considered a stronghold of the Congress, but BJP held on to it four times. After Khanna won from this border seat in 1998, the party also bagged it in the 1999, 2004 and 2014 elections. The constituency witnessed two terror attacks — in Dinanagar in 2015 and at the Pathankot air force base in 2016.
Besides Deol and Jakhar, the others in the fray are Aam Aadmi Party’s Peter Masih and Punjab Democratic Alliance’s Lal Chand. The Gurdaspur constituency, which has an electorate of 15.95 lakh, will vote on May 19 in the last phase of the Lok Sabha elections. The votes will be counted on May 23.