New Delhi: The parliamentary constituency of Gurdaspur in Punjab is headed for a byelection on Wednesday, showcasing a high-pitched battle between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While the Congress will be keen to consolidate its position in the state, BJP is looking to regain some of the ground it lost to the Congress in assembly polls earlier this year.
The byelection is the first electoral test in Punjab since the assembly elections in March, which saw the Congress return to power, grabbing 77 of the 117 seats.
Result for the bypoll will be announced on 15 October. The seat fell vacant following the death of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker and movie veteran Vinod Khanna earlier this year.
The Congress has fielded senior party leader Sunil Jakhar while the BJP’s candidate is businessman Swarn Salaria. The Aam Aadmi Party, which came second in the assembly elections, has fielded retired major general Suresh Khajuria. A total of 11 candidates are contesting the election.
The Congress feels that this election is critical for it because it comes nearly seven months after the party formed the government in Punjab.
“Gurdaspur election is important for us because it could be seen as a reflection on our six months in power. It is a report card where we must do well. One seat in the national scenario may not make much of a difference but it becomes significant when it comes to state politics," a senior Punjab government minister said requesting anonymity.
“Captain (chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh) has personal stakes in this election—not just because he is the chief minister but also because Jakhar is considered to be very close to him. He has been overseeing the campaign and has hit the ground too," the leader quoted above added.
Amarinder Singh has himself been campaigning in the constituency and held a roadshow on Monday, the last day of campaigning.
The Congress won seven out of the nine assembly segments in Gurdaspur in this year’s assembly polls.
For BJP, the election is an opportunity to regain lost ground.
The election is also important for the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) because the regional party has now lost its dominance within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). BJP is hopeful that Akali voters will help the party secure the seat.
AAP, which is in opposition in the assembly, is looking to expand its electoral footprint. The party won four seats from the state in the general elections in 2014 and 20 seats in the assembly elections.
“People have seen the promises that have been broken by both the Congress and the BJP. The state government led by Congress has gone back on all the promises they made for farmers, employment and drugs. Our candidate is a resident of Gurdaspur and doesn’t need to travel here like other leaders," Gurmeet Singh Meet Haher, AAP legislator from Punjab said in a video message.
Analysts point out that the bypoll is important for Amarinder Singh to establish his leadership in the state. “The by-poll is a test for the government led by Captain Amarinder Singh and will also help establish his leadership. He has brought in the person whom he trusts to contest. It is also a prestige battle for him given the factions with the party. Given the party’s representation in the Lok Sabha, a win will be a push for the party," said Ashutosh Kumar, a Punjab-based political analyst.
He added, “If you see Punjab’s electoral history, the party in power has a natural advantage in the byelection."