Chandigarh: With the Election Commission (EC) likely to announce anytime now the date for the by-election to the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat in Punjab, which fell vacant in April following the passing away of veteran actor Vinod Khanna due to cancer, it could be a tough fight between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the state’s ruling Congress — with the AAP playing the spoiler.
The BJP, which is the party in power at the centre, has made the first move by announcing the appointment of poll in-charges for the nine assembly constituencies falling under the Gurdaspur parliamentary seat that Khanna held from 1998 to 2004 and then from 2014 till his demise.
“Punjab BJP president (and union minister) Vijay Sampla has asked all the poll incharges to rush to their respective constituencies and start working towards the victory of the BJP in the forthcoming LS bypoll,” BJP state secretary Vineet Joshi told IANS.
The Congress, fresh from its emphatic win in the Punjab assembly elections in March, cannot easily let the seat, which it held from 2009 to 2014, go back to the BJP easily. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh will have a lot riding on this bypoll, especially after the Congress won the by-election in the neighbouring Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency, which Amarinder had quit in last November, in March.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which made its presence felt in the assembly polls and emerged and the single largest party with 20 seats in the 117-member house, is also likely to field its own candidate. The ascendance of the AAP could be a spoiler for the plans of the BJP, which has an alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab, and the Congress for a direct fight.
As of now, none of the parties have any big name that is sure to be fielded for the by-election. While several aspirants in all three parties are vying to get the respective party tickets, the race will intensify after the poll panel announces the election date.
In the BJP, Vinod Khanna’s widow, Kavita Khanna, who has looked after the constituency during his hospitalisation and absence from the constituency, is a claimant for the seat. Mumbai-based millionaire businessman Swaran Salaria, who has tried for the ticket on this seat earlier also, is again in contention. Other names being mentioned in BJP circles are that of party legislator Dinesh Singh Babbu and former state BJP president Ashwini Sharma.
In the Congress, the names doing rounds are that of a family member of Congress Rajya Sabha MP Pratap Singh Bajwa, legislator Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Ashwini Sekhri and former Union Minister Ashwini Kumar.
Amarinder Singh, who led the party to victory in the assembly polls after being out of power for a decade, is likely to have a big say in the selection of the Congress candidate.
Khanna, a Punjabi who was born in Peshawar (now in Pakistan), remained popular in the constituency despite accusations from his opponents that he remained absent from the area most of the time. He had stormed the Congress bastion on his electoral debut in 1998, defeating five-time Congress MP Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder.