The Congress wrested the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat from the BJP with its Punjab unit chief Sunil Jakhar trouncing saffron party candidate Swaran Salaria by a whopping margin of 1,93,219 votes in the high stakes bypoll.
Jakhar polled 4,99,752 votes, way ahead of the BJP candidate’s 3,06,533, while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Major General (retd) Suresh Khajuria finished a distant third, garnering a mere 23,579 votes.
Khajuria lost his security deposit.
Jakhar maintained the lead in all nine Assembly segments, right from start of the counting of votes at 8 am, in a contest that virtually turned out to be a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP.
Polling for the Gurdaspur seat, which had fallen vacant after the death of BJP MP Vinod Khanna in April this year, was held on October 11.
After the Congress’s landslide win, it was early Diwali for party workers who distributed sweets. Celebratory scenes were witnessed at the party’s offices at Chandigarh, Patiala, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Amritsar apart from several places in Gurdaspur.
The bypoll was important as it was being seen as a barometer of the popularity of the six-month old Captain Amarinder Singh government in Punjab.
The chief minister hailed the victory as a “total rejection of the anti-people policies” of the BJP and its ally SAD and claimed it underlined the “political annihilation” of the AAP.
He said the Gurdaspur result had once again showed that the Congress was on the revival path across the country. The Congress had last won this seat in 2009 when Partap Singh Bajwa defeated BJP’s actor-turned politician Vinod Khanna.
The actor’s wife Kavita Khanna was among the front- runners for the BJP ticket, but the party chose businessman Salaria over her.
Vinod Khanna had won this seat in 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2014.
After defeating the BJP in its stronghold, the Congress was quick to claim that the win will set the tone for the 2019 general elections.
“With this victory, people have reaffirmed faith in the leadership of Amarinder Singh,” said Jakhar who battled the “outsider” tag in the bypoll. Jakhar, who hails from Abohar in Fazilka, had lost in the 2017 Assembly polls.
“The BJP must read the writing on the wall now,” Jakhar said after his emphatic win and added that the “people have rejected the BJP and shown mirror to the Akalis”.
Congress communications incharge Randeep Singh Surjewla said the victory margin reflected the huge disappointment among the people towards the Modi government at the Centre.
The UPA has won all the four Lok Sabha byelections in 2017: Amritsar, Srinagar, Malappuram and now Gurdaspur, Surjewala said.
“This proves the disenchantment of the masses with the ‘jumlas’ of the prime minister and his all-talk-no-action approach. People of this country are ready for a change and these byelections are magnifying the rejection of the Modi brand of politics,” Surjewala claimed.
Senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Pratap Singh Bajwa claimed that losing Gurdaspur by a huge margin was a great setback for the BJP ahead of state polls in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.
The BJP-SAD combine and AAP alleged misuse of government machinery by the ruling party in Punjab.
“Congress misused government machinery, there is no doubt. Everyone knows that even sarpanches owing allegiance to BJP and SAD were warned that they will be dealt with strictly if the two allies got a lead in their respective areas in the bypoll. Civic body officials too were warned in the same manner,” alleged BJP’s Punjab unit secretary, Vineet Joshi.
BJP candidate Salaria also accused the state government of misusing official machinery to influence polls.
Senior Shiromani Akali Dal leader and party MP Prof Prem Singh Chandumajra also termed the Congress victory in the bypoll as a “victory earned by the misuse of government machinery”.
AAP’s state unit president and party MP Bhagwant Mann said his party accepted the people’s mandate and will introspect into the reasons for the defeat.
Mann also charged the Congress of misusing government machinery. AAP candidate Khajuria also accused the Congress of using “undemocratic means” in the bypoll.
Contrary to Congress’s claim, Mann said that the outcome of Lok Sabha bypolls will not set the tone for 2019 general elections, while pointing out that in politics, equations keep changing from time to time.
Jakhar secured a lead of 6,801 votes in Sujanpur, 7,796 votes in Bhoa, 8,710 votes in Pathankot, 29,656 votes in Gurdaspur, 11,387 votes in Dina Nagar, 26,348 votes in Qadian, 26,255 votes in Batala, 32,296 votes in Fatehgarh Churian and 44,074 votes in Dera Baba Nanak.
A total 8,59,462 votes were polled in the bypoll and 7,587 voters opted for the None of the Above (NOTA) option.
The high-stakes Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll had recorded a 56 per cent voter turnout, lower than the 70.03 per cent recorded in the 2014 general elections.
The bypoll campaign had witnessed sharp attacks and counter-attacks by political parties.
For the Congress in Punjab, the bypoll victory comes after a stellar performance in the 2017 Punjab Assembly elections, when it had stormed to power in the state in March this year winning 77 out of total 117 seats – over poll promises like farm debt waiver and free smartphones.