Even though the Congress party has remained undefeated in the Jalandhar Lok Sabha elections since 1999, it is not going to be a cakewalk for it in coming by-elections.
The Jalandhar by-polls are being dubbed to be a crucial electoral battle for the political outfits before the showdown in the 2024 general elections.
However, this time around, the challenges before the Punjab Congress are daunting. The party is going through a credibility crisis in the state, especially following its defeat in the 2022 assembly elections.
Moreover, most of its former cabinet ministers and former MLAs are facing vigilance probes due to corruption allegations and allegedly having disproportionate assets gathered during their tenure from 2017-2022. Though Congress continues to term it as vendetta politics, as many as three of its cabinet minister Sunder Sham Arora, Bharat Bhushan Ashu and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, were arrested by the vigilance bureau in alleged cases of disproportionate assets.
A string of exodus after former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh joined the Bharatiya Janta Party is said to have further weakened the party at the grassroots.
The ruling Aam Aadmi Party, sort of, stormed the Congress bastion by winning four out of nine assembly segments falling in Jalandhar parliamentary constituency in the last assembly polls.
The margin of Congress’ winning candidates dipped considerably in the 2019 parliamentary elections compared to 2014. Two-time member of parliament Satokh Singh Chauhardy won convincingly against his opponents with a margin of 70,981 votes in 2014 polls. However, the margin was reduced to only 19,491 in 2019, with the BSP candidate Balwinder Kumar managing to secure 2,04,783 votes.
In the coming Jalandhar by-elections, the Congress seems to be going all-out, having already announced 27 leaders, including present and former MLAs, as in-charges and co-in-charges for the nine assembly segments falling under the Jalandhar parliamentary constituency. The party has appointed Kapurthala MLA Rana Gurjeet Singh as chairman of the campaign committee for the elections and Avtar Henry as chairman of the coordination committee.
Avtar Henry said the Congress will focus on the performance of the AAP government in the past year.
“The ruling government in the state is facing stiff anti-incumbency after just one year of its tenure. They have done nothing except play vendetta politics,” Henry said.
He added that the politicisation of the police has resulted in poor law and order situation in the state.
Cong’s last defeat came in 1998
It was in the 1998 general elections that Congress last faced defeat here when former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral got elected as a Janta Dal candidate.
In 1999, Congress’ Balbis Singh won the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat followed by Rana Gurjeet Singh in 2004, Mohinder Singh Kaypee in 2009 and Santokh Singh Chaudhary in the 2014 and 2019 general elections.
In 2019, Chaudhary polled 3,85,712 votes, while SAD candidate Charanjit Singh Atwal got 3,66,221 votes. The AAP candidate Justice Zora Singh (retd) polled just 25,467 votes, while BSP candidate Balwinder Singh got 2,04,783 votes.