AAP clears litmus test, secures victory in Jalandhar by-poll

The Jalandhar Lok Sabha by-election in Punjab was a battle of prestige for the ruling Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress. For the BJP, it was an opportunity to revive the party, while for the Shiromani Akali Dal it was a chance to redeem its lost glory, writes Rajendra Khatry

The ruling Aam Aadmi Party registered an impressive win in the Jalandhar Lok Sabha by-election in Punjab. AAP broke Congress party’s 24-year grip on the Jalandhar Lok Sabha constituency with a huge margin of over 58,000 votes. In a four-cornered contest, Sushil Kumar Rinku, a former Congress MLA from the Jalandhar West constituency in the previous assembly who switched to AAP, defeated his closest rival, Congress’s Karamjit Kaur, the wife of Santokh Chaudhary, whose death during the Bharat Jodo Yatra necessitated the by-poll.

Punjab Congress chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring conceded defeat and congratulated the Aam Aadmi Party and its candidate Sushil Rinku. AAP secured 3,02,097 votes, as it steadily widened the gap with Congress which got 2,43,450 votes. The Akali-BSP combine was third with 1,58,354, and the BJP in fourth place with 1,34,706 votes.

The Jalandhar Lok Sabha by-election in Punjab on May 10 was a battle of prestige for the ruling Aam aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress. For the BJP, it was an opportunity to revive the party, while for the Shiromani Akali Dal it was a chance to redeem its lost glory.

The by-poll was necessitated because of the death of Congress MP, Chaudhary Santokh Singh who died while participating in Rahul Gandhi’s `Bharat Jodo’ Yatra when it passed through Jalandhar recently.  

In the multi-cornered contest, AAP fielded Sushil Rinku, who quit the Congress in April and joined AAP. Rinku was immediately given a ticket by AAP for  the Jalandhar Lok Sabha by-election. The Congress on the other hand gave ticket to late MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary’s wife, Karamjit Kaur. Inder Iqbal  represented the BJP.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) fielded its two-time MLA Dr Sukhwinder Kumar Sukhi as its candidate for the upcoming Jalandhar Lok Sabha by-poll. Sukhi has been a two-time legislator from Banga assembly seat in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar district of Punjab

It became obvious that the Jalandhar Lok Sabha bypoll would be a litmus test for not only the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab but also for all other parties trying to regain the lost ground in the Assembly elections held last year.

The AAP came to power in Punjab with a thumping majority early last year by beating the then ruling Congress and other parties with a huge margin.  But surprisingly just three months later, AAP lost its first Lok Sabha by-election from Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s pocket borough of Sangrur. The Jalandhar by-poll therefore became a prestige issue for the ruling party.

Incidentally, the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat had been vacated by Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann after he was elected to Punjab Vidhan Sabha from the Dhuri Assembly seat in March last year. And yet just three months later in June, AAP lost the seat to Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar)’s Simranjit Singh Mann. This was a big electoral loss for the AAP.

The AAP therefore needed to make an extra effort to ensure it did not lose the Jalandhar seat also. AAP did not have a single MP from Punjab. Mann had been a two-time MP. AAP had made its entry in Punjab with a bang when in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the people of Punjab elected four leaders of the party as MPs for the first time. But In 2019, only Bhagwant Singh Mann was able to retain his seat in Sangrur.

The Opposition parties in Punjab also left no stone unturned to win the Jalandhar by-election, which was seen as a precursor to the Lok Sabha elections due in 2024. No wonder all parties  used their political might to win the prestigious seat.

On the other hand the Congress wanted to win the seat back as it was held by the party and it looked to ride on the sympathy wave after Santokh Singh Chaudhary passed away during the Bharat Jodo Yatra of Rahul Gandhi.

The BJP tried to establish its base in the state, after having inducted senior leaders of other political parties. A win for the BJP was necessary to get a foothold in Punjab after it drew a blank in previous elections. BJP inducted former chief minister and ex-Congress leader Amarinder Singh, and many former cabinet ministers including Manpreet Badal, Balbir Sidhu, Sunder Sham Arora, and Dr Raj Kumar Verka. With such senior leaders by its side, the BJP mounted a strong campaign in the constituency during the by-poll.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which also lost its aged, popular and most experienced politician and former Chief Minister of the state, Parkash Singh Badal, desperately tried to regain its days of popularity.

Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann made several rounds of the constituency to woo the voters along with Arvind Kejriwal. Mann also flagged off a train to Varanasi, participated in Ravidas Jayanti and met people from all sections of society as well as industrialists in the city.

Jalandhar parliamentary seat had been a Congress stronghold since independence. The Congress won the seat as many as 14 times, while the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Janata Party won twice each. Out of nine assembly constituencies in Jalandhar, five were rural and four urban. In the rural segment the contest was mainly among the AAP, Congress and the Akali Dal while in the urban areas, the main contest was between the Congress and the BJP.

According to political experts, the BJP was looked at as a party to damage the poll prospects of both the AAP and the Congress. During the campaign, the Congress tried to win on the sympathy votes. The Congress fielded Chaudhary Santokh Singh’s wife Professor Karamjit Kaur. The Congress harped upon the failure of the AAP in fulfilling its promise made to the voters of the state.

The AAP sought votes on its good governance and for providing a corruption free government and also for giving 300 units of free power per month to domestic users. The BJP appealed to voters to vote in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It criticised the poor law and order situation in the state and the rising drug problem and security threat from Pakistan.

The SAD sought votes for it on the failed promises of AAP including giving Rs 1000 per month to women. The SAD-BSP combine reportedly had a strong presence in five out of nine segments but was said to be weak in four assembly constituencies.

Under former Congress Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s leadership, the Congress had managed to win five out of the nine assembly segments in Jalandhar even during an AAP wave in 2022. Not just this, but the Congress’ vote share at 33 per cent was also about five percentage points higher than that of the AAP.

Earlier speculation was rife that the BJP would make law and order its main poll plank and field ex-DCP Rajinder Singh, for the Jalandhar seat. Rajinder Singh had joined the BJP recently. There was a buzz in Punjab’s political circles that the former Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Jalandhar, Rajinder Singh, who had joined the BJP in the presence of Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, would be fielded by the party for the May 10 by- Election to the Jalandhar Lok Sabha constituency. But this was not to be and finally the BJP fielded Inder Iqbal.