Khanna Legacy Up for Grab
If Congress is getting support of Vinod Khanna’s second wife Kavita, BJP may get aided by Pratap Singh Bajwa’s anger with his leadership for denying ticket to his wife or brother
Why is the bi-election to Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat assuming significance by the day? One strong reason and not the only one is that the segment was represented by matinee idol and BJP leader Vinod Khanna whose demise due to cancer necessitated the poll. Ever since he breathed his last speculations were rife as to who would the BJP field in his place, whether it would be one of his close family members or another cine-star or a party leader.
Finally this mystery has been resolved and Khanna’s family members, his second wife Kavita Khanna and son and film-star Akshay Khanna were being mentioned as possible candidates, lost out to someone though associated with BJP but known for his credentials as a leading businessman. Swaran Singh Salaria is the BJP nominee for the bi-poll. His name was doing the rounds for 2014 Lok Sabha elections but with all his might he failed to upstage Vinod Khanna.
Salaria had been eying Gurdaspur seat since long but could not make it despite promise held-out to him by BJP big-wigs. The obvious stumbling block was Khanna and the credibility which the late-film star had managed to built for him in the constituency bordering Pakistan. So finally the BJP high command has kept its promise.
The battle lines have already been drawn for October 11 elections as it is again going to be a three-cornered contest between BJP, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The Congress has fielded its Punjab chief Sunil Jakhar, who son of former Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jhakhar, whereas Major General (retired) Suresh Khajuria is the AAP candidate.
The only confusion and point of interest was the selection of BJP nominee due to aforesaid factors. It had generated keenness particularly among political observes and analysts as everyone was watching as to how the duo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah approach this poll in a bid to retain the seat particularly in the aftermath of drubbing that the BJP-Shiromani Akali Dal got in the recent Punjab Assembly elections, perhaps one of the few electoral setbacks that the BJP under this duo suffered since 2014 general elections.
Amidst the talk of next Lok Sabha election being held earlier than stipulated May 2019 and a massive loss of face in the Assembly elections, Gurdaspur is becoming sort of a prestige issue for BJP. Firstly, a victory would help retain its stranglehold in this area and secondly it
would erase some bad memories of earlier electoral loss and create a positive note in the run up to general elections.
The ride for self-sufficient Salaria with the backup of a strong Narendra Modi factor is not going to be easy. Despite BJP having been marginalized more by its alliance partner and big-brother in the state Prakash Singh Badal-led Shiromani Akali Dal, the party has strong factions who have not favourably viewed Salaria’s selection. Jakhar’s meeting with Kavita Khanna immediately after filing nomination papers have already set the tongues wagging whether the Khanna family will back the BJP nominee or someone else.
There might not be an open revolt against him but he would have to take measure of the discontent. At the same time the SAD potential to check growth of BJP at every step is still as strong as latter’s defeat suits the Badals more to remain formidably relevant in the BJP-SAD coalition and at the same time diminish any BJP plans to go solo in near future.
As is the strong perception created by the BJP strategists this bi-election will be no different from others and will be viewed from the prism of Modi-factor. It is still to be seen as to how PM Modi approaches this election. Will a joint public meeting with Akali strongman Prakash Singh Badal be on the cards or would be a solo Modi act?
Interestingly all the three candidates of contending parties are Hindus which has something to do with the religion-caste configuration of the constituency. This is another matter that Sikh candidates including Congress’ Pratap Singh Bajwa, Rajya Sabha MP and former Punjab chief of the party, had won earlier. Bajwa had unsuccessfully tried to get mandate for either his wife or a brother and that has given credence to reports that he might not fully support Jakhar as was indicated by his absence from Congress’ inaugural rally after Jakhar filed his nomination.
The one single factor which can stand between Salaria (read Modi) and victory could be Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amrinder Singh who had singlehandedly defeated BJP-SAD ruling alliance in Assembly elections and at the same time warded-off a strong AAP challenge. Another factor of strength for Congress would be cricketer turned politician and now a minister in Amrinder cabinet Navjot Singh Sidhu who was earlier a BJP MP from the adjoining Amritsar seat.
Despite selection of a credible face as its candidate, the AAP is beset with serious organizational problems which were the result of a clash of Delhi versus local leadership that cost the party heavily in the Assembly elections. It had shattered the AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal’s dream of capturing another state after Delhi and pave for a bigger battle in the next Lok Sabha elections.
It was the outcome of the Central and state leadership’s frequent ego clash as to who would ultimately rule the roost that the latter has managed to prove their point. Major General Khajuria’s selection as a candidate was more of a local event than having been dictated from Delhi. Still he would have to cover lot of ground to remain in the reckoning. The AAP nominee, despite the party doing well in other constituencies and winning four seats for maiden entry into Lok Sabha, had stood third behind BJP and Congress in 2014.
Despite selection of a credible face as its candidate, the AAP is beset with serious organizational problems which were the result of a clash of Delhi versus local leadership that cost the party heavily in the Assembly elections
BJP candidate for the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll Swaran Singh Salaria files his nomination papers
AAP candidate for Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll Maj Gen Suresh Khajuria (Retd), leader of Opposition Sukhpal Singh Khaira, and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann addressing a press conference in Jalandhar