How Punjab by-poll is posing a daunting test for Mann-led AAP

Hit by poor showing in recent Lok Sabha polls and subsequent desertions from the party, and facing opposition fire over drug menace, the ruling AAP government in Punjab now has another challenge staring at it – the upcoming Jalandhar (West) by-election, writes Rajesh Moudgil

The July 10 Jalandhar West (reserved) assembly segment by-poll poses a daunting test for chief minister Bhagwant Mann-led AAP in Punjab, especially in the backdrop of the party’s drubbing in the June 1 general polls in which it could win only three of the 13 seats and the subsequent desertions by party leaders, besides other adverse issues it is facing.

Notably, this bypoll was necessitated after AAP’s own sitting MLA Sheetal Angural from this seat jumped ship, joined BJP ahead of the June general elections, and resigned from assembly. It was on March 27 last that he as well as the AAP’s only MP from Jalandhar (SC) parliamentary seat Sushil Rinku had left AAP just a few weeks ahead of the June 1 Lok Sabha polls and joined BJP.

Interestingly, Angural had won this seat in 2022 by defeating the then Congress candidate, Sushil Rinku, who joined AAP ahead of Jalandhar Lok Sabha bypoll necessitated in the wake of demise of the sitting Congress’ sitting MP Santokh Chaudhary, and won last year. Rinku lost to Congress’ Charanjit Singh Channi in the June 1 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

As regards AAP’s performance in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, it was the Congress which had emerged as the biggest gainer by winning seven of the total 13 Lok Sabha seats of the state. The Congress maintained its grip, emerging as the biggest player from the state which witnessed a multi-cornered contest; while BJP failed to open its account, the Shiromani Akali Dal could win only one, and the remaining two seats were won by radical Sikh candidates – Amritpal Singh from Khadoor Sahib seat and Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa from Faridkot seat.

Though Congress had won eight seats in the 2019 general elections, the party faced a brutal drubbing in the 2022 state assembly election when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) not only registered a stunning victory by winning 92 out of the total 117 assembly seats, but also decimated Congress’ vote-share.

The Congress which had about 40% vote share and 18 MLAs then, came down to about 26% this time, but the party has bagged seven seats across the three regions of the state – Malwa, Majha and Doaba. It has won Ludhiana, Ferozepur, Fatehgarh Sahib (SC) and Patiala (Malwa), and two seats – Gurdaspur and Amritsar (Majha) and Jalandhar (SC) seat (Doaba).

Also, according to media reports, the AAP has seen a sharp decline – facing drubbing in 60 assembly segments that it had won in 2022 assembly polls. In the recent Lok Sabha polls, the AAP led in just 32 assembly seats compared to 92 of the total 117 assembly seats it won in 2022.

The Congress, on the other hand, staged a comeback, and led in 38 assembly seats compared to its 18 seats in 2022.

Pertinently, while the AAP has been relying on its populist schemes such as monthly free power upto 300 units, better schools and mohalla clinics, besides generation of employment in this by-poll, the Opposition parties on the other hand going full throttle over the unabated drug menace and worsening law and order situation besides other issues.

How seriously CM Mann is looking at this by-poll can be gauged from the fact that he has set up a camp office at Jalandhar. However, he has also declared that he would run the government for two days a week from Jalandhar for the convenience of the people.

Candidates in fray

While the AAP has fielded Mohinder Bhagat as its candidate for the said bypoll, the BJP has picked Sheetal Angural for the same.

Bhagat, who is AAP segment incharge, is a known sports goods manufacturer and former BJP leader. He had also unsuccessfully contested from Jalandhar West seat in 2017. He is son of Chunni Lal Bhagat, who was a minister in the erstwhile Shiromani-Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP government. Mohinder Bhagat left BJP and joined the AAP during the 2023 Jalandhar Lok Sabha by-election.

The Congress named its former senior Deputy Mayor Surinder Kaur, while the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has fielded its two-time councillor Bibi Surjit Kaur as its candidate for the July 10 by-election.

While Congress’ Surinder Kaur is a four-time councillor, SAD’s Bibi Surjit Kaur, a social worker, came from Panthic background and her late husband Jathedar Pritam Singh had also served as a councillor once. The results for the said by-polls would be out on July 13.