Polling for the high-stakes Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll was underway here today in which the Congress is hoping to consolidate its position and the BJP trying to regain its lost ground. The seat, which fell vacant following the death of actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna of the BJP in April, is witnessing a three-cornered race among Congress, BJP and AAP contestants. While the Congress has fielded its Punjab unit chief Sunil Jakhar, the BJP has fielded businessman Swaran Salaria. The AAP has placed bet on Major General (retd) Suresh Khajuria. Voters could be seen standing in queues at various polling booths in the morning for voting. As many as 15.22 lakh voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the by-election being fought by 11 candidates. Of the total electorate of 15,22,922 in the constituency, 7,12,077 are women and 14 belong to a third gender, official said. Around 30 companies of paramilitary forces and more than 7,000 Punjab Police personnel have been deployed in the constituency.
The voting on the parliamentary seat started at 8 am and will go on till 5 pm. A total of 1,781 polling stations have been set up at 1,257 locations, of which 457 have been declared vulnerable and 83 critical. Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) will be used at all polling stations. Votes will be counted on October 15 and the result will be declared the same day, the official said. Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll is being seen as a barometer for the popularity of the six-month-old Congress government in Punjab.
The bypoll will gauge the popularity of the Amarinder Singh government which is battling allegations of reneging on its pre-assembly polls promise of farm debt waiver and free smart phones. The Congress, which had bagged 77 seats in the 117-member Punjab Assembly in February, is keen to keep the winning momentum going. The BJP has also tried pulling out all the stops to retain the seat, which Khanna had won four times.
A victory would give much-needed boost to the BJP, which had bagged just one segment of Sujanpur out of the four seats it had contested in the assembly polls. The AAP, the main opposition party in Punjab with 20 seats in the House, is also looking to strengthen its presence in the state. The Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat has nine assembly segments–Bhoa, Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Dinanagar, Qadian, Fathegarh Churian, Dera Baba Nanak, Sujanpur and Batala. The Election Commission has allowed the use of alternative identity cards for the by-poll.