Why Gurdaspur won’t be a cake walk for Gadar star, Sunny Deol
Amritsar, May 10: The 'Gadar' actor - Sunny Deol, may be a nationalist hero in reel life, who would single-handedly take Pakistan to the task but the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections in real life could be more challenging for him.
The actor-turned politician recently joined the Bharatiya Janata Pary (BJP) and has been fielded from Gurdaspur constituency in Punjab. His main rival is state Congress president and sitting MP Sunil Jakhar, son of Congress veteran Balram Jakhar.
BJP has relied on star power in Gurdaspur in the past as well - actor Vinod Khanna won the seat in 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2014. But after Khanna's death, BJP lost the seat to Congress' Sunil Kumar Jakhar in October 2017. Now the party is once again relying on a film star to wrest the seat back from the Congress. He is up against the Congress' Jakhar, AAP's Peter Masih and Lal Chand Kataruchak of the Punjab Democratic Alliance.
It may look like an easy contest for Deol for several reasons. Gurdaspur voters have already tried an actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna and they were not disappointed. So being an actor is no disqualification for Deol in Gurdaspur. But the Gadar - Ek Prem Katha actor faces a stiff change from Congress this time.
Traditionally a Congress stronghold
The constituency was traditionally a Congress stronghold. That changed in 1998, when Vinod Khanna defeated Congress stalwart Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder. Khanna won again in 1999 and 2004. In 2009, he faced defeat at the hands of Congress leader Partap Singh Bajwa but in 2014 won again by defeating Bajwa. Jakhar won the seat in the 2017 byelection following the death of Khanna. Jakhar defeated the BJP's Swaran Salaria, a local businessman, by a record margin of nearly 1.96 lakh votes.
One major criticism that the BJP is facing in Punjab is that of turning the Parliamentary seat into a "parking space for outsiders". Political experts feel it is likely to cause heartburn among local leaders, denting the party's prospects. When a candidate from 'outside' is fielded its quite natural that the enthusiasm of local workers or leaders is likely to be less due to lack of personal attachment.
Voices of dissent
Soon after the BJP announced Deol as its candidate, voices of dissent were raised. Kavita Khanna, wife of Vinod Khanna, said she felt abandoned and rejected after being denied ticket. She, however, said she would not contest as an Independent and still had faith in the BJP.
Sikh voters play crucial role
Gurdaspur district has a total population of over 22 lakh. It has a 44 per cent majority of Hindus closely followed by Sikhs close to 44 per cent. Past trends show that Hindu and Sikh voters responded differently in the bypoll. While some Hindu voters who may have consolidated behind the Congress in the Assembly poll have likely shifted to the BJP in the bypoll, many Sikh voters who voted for SAD in the Assembly poll did not vote for the BJP. It remains to be seen how the voters will choose this time.
Balakot card may not work
Deol would naturally try to cash in on the Balakot air strikes as an election issue. But BJP's trump card in many parts of the country, is actually rather unpopular in Punjab. The actor himself conceded that his political innings has just begun and he does not know much about the Balakot air strike.
"I do not know much about issues like Balakot strikes or India's relations with Pakistan. I am here to serve people; if I win maybe I will have an opinion, right now I don't," he admits.
According to CVoter's election tracker, PM Modi's net approval rating in Punjab is just 18.7 percent, one of the lowest among all the states in the country. Punjab is one of the few states where more people picked Congress President Rahul Gandhi as their prime ministerial choice than Modi.