Punjab: A ‘new BJP’ of poached bad eggs

State BJP chief Sunil Jakhar’s team is packed with old Congress leaders, but will it match the Congress' 2019 score of 8 seats out of 13?

Former AAP MP Dharamvir Gandhi (second from right) joins Congress
Former AAP MP Dharamvir Gandhi (second from right) joins Congress

Harjeshwar Pal Singh

A beleaguered Congress, reeling from defections out of its ranks, heaved a collective sigh of relief when former AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) MP and activist Dharamvir Gandhi joined the party.

Dr Gandhi, a cardiologist, had defeated Preneet Kaur of the Congress in 2014, but resigned in 2016 following differences with AAP. The doctor, once a committed leftist, is recognised as one of the very few principled and idealist leaders in Punjab, with a history of fighting for democracy, secularism and pro-people politics.

The Congress is likely to field him from Patiala, where he will again take on Preneet Kaur — contesting this time as a BJP candidate! In 2014, Dr Gandhi defeated Kaur, wife of former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, by 20,942 votes. Dr Gandhi, later suspended by AAP for alleged anti-party activities, contested the 2019 general elections on behalf of his newly floated political outfit, the Nava Punjab Party; but lost to Kaur this time.

AAP has already named the state’s health minister Balbir Singh as its candidate from Patiala, while the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is yet to announce its candidate. While AAP and the Congress decided to contest separately in Punjab for strategic reasons, the Opposition alliance has even more compelling reasons after the arrest of Arvind Kejriwal to synchronise strategies and campaigns.

Dr Gandhi’s induction, though opposed by a few local leaders, is seen as a shot in its arm, but the Congress also has several other popular faces — Charanjit Channi, Raja Warring, Rana Gurjit and Sukhpal Khaira, besides the likes of Partap Singh Bajwa and Manish Tewari — to make it a formidable political force in the state.

On the other side, there is state BJP chief Sunil Jakhar, who quit the Congress in a huff when he was not made chief minister after Amarinder Singh — who is also of the turncoat company in the BJP. Singh’s daughter, Jai Inder Kaur, is president of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha in the state. And the BJP clearly hopes to poach more leaders from the Congress and the AAP.

Jakhar’s team is packed with old Congress leaders, prominent among them being Fateh Jung Bajwa (brother of Partap Singh Bajwa, leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly), Harjot Kamal, Arvind Khanna and Kewal Dhillon. The BJP core committee also has two seasoned Congress hands in Manpreet Badal and Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi. Ravneet Singh Bittu also joined the BJP earlier this year, making the ‘new BJP’ look like the old Congress.

The Congress won 8 of the 13 seats in 2019, polling 40 per cent of the votes. The BJP had then bagged four seats in its alliance with SAD. While SAD polled 27.4 per cent of the votes, the BJP polled 9.6 per cent. This time, SAD is contesting alone, wary of the sentiments of agitating farmers who are refusing to allow BJP leaders to even campaign in several parts of Malwa.

Will the BJP manage to match the ‘old Congress’ score? Or will their loss be the SAD’s gain?

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Published: 10 Apr 2024, 7:28 AM