Jalandhar West By-poll a litmus test for CM Mann

| | Chandigarh
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Jalandhar West By-poll a litmus test for CM Mann

Wednesday, 10 July 2024 | Monika Malik | Chandigarh

With the Jalandhar West assembly bypoll set for Wednesday (July 10), Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann is bracing for a high-stakes showdown to secure a crucial electoral mandate. This electoral battle has captured public attention as a dramatic contest unfolds amidst political maneuvering and strategic alliances. While the BJP and AAP have pinned their hopes on turncoat candidates, despite their recent electoral setbacks; the Congress, Akali Dal, and BSP have rallied behind grassroots stalwarts. However, the spotlight remains on AAP's internal dynamics, with a contentious defection triggering this pivotal bypoll, poised to test Mann’s leadership amidst mounting challenges.

 

The upcoming bypoll holds immense significance for Mann, serving as a litmus test for his government's popularity post the Lok Sabha setback. For AAP, retaining this seat is imperative to dispel doubts about their governance and reaffirm public trust. Conversely, a loss could embolden critics, casting shadows over Mann’s leadership and fueling debates on Punjab’s socio-political landscape.

 

Adding to the intrigue, the Akali Dal is grappling with an internal rift, which has led to the withdrawal of support for its official candidate and backing the BSP nominee instead, potentially impacting the election outcome.

 

Despite the fact that the outcome of the bypoll will not alter the composition of the current AAP Government in Punjab, which already commands 90 seats in the 117-member House, Chief Minister Mann’s singular focus on this election and his dedicated efforts to secure this assembly seat are driven by specific considerations. Primarily, this is due to AAP’s disappointing performance in the recent Lok Sabha elections.

 

AAP’s loss in this bypoll could be perceived as a sign that public support for the State Government, particularly Mann’s popularity, is waning. Mann is determined to avoid this narrative, aiming to demonstrate that despite setbacks in the Lok Sabha elections, his Government retains the people’s trust.

 

The stakes have escalated due to the bypolls triggered by AAP MLA Sheetal Angural’s defection to the BJP. Now standing as the saffron party's candidate, Angural is aggressively targeting Mann and his family with accusations and attacks.

 

The outcome of Jalandhar West bypoll is set to have significant ramifications for Mann. A win would be a crucial morale booster, affirming that despite the Lok Sabha losses, his government continues to enjoy public support. Conversely, a defeat would provide ammunition to his critics, who would likely highlight issues such as the state’s struggles with drug problems and law and order. It would also cast doubt on Mann's leadership and the AAP's governance, suggesting that public disenchantment with the government has set in within just two and a half years.

 

For the Congress, a victory in this bypoll could solidify their position, following their success in securing the maximum number of seats in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The Congress has nominated Surinder Kaur, a well-known local leader, as their candidate. Kaur’s campaign has been bolstered by the party’s strong organizational network and her established rapport with the electorate. The Congress hoped that her grassroots connection and commitment to local issues will resonate with voters.

 

The Akali Dal, however, faces a significant challenge due to internal strife. The withdrawal of party support for its official candidate is expected to have a considerable impact on their performance. Meanwhile, the BSP has also fielded a candidate, further adding to the multi-cornered contest. Despite these challenges, the Akali Dal’s support for the BSP nominee, Binder Kumar, highlighted the strategic alliances being formed in this high-stakes bypoll.

 

Preparations for the bypoll are in full swing, with the Jalandhar District Administration and election officials ensuring robust arrangements. A total of 181 polling stations have been set up to accommodate the 1.71 lakh registered voters, comprising 89,629 men, 82,326 women, and eight third-gender voters.

 

To facilitate the smooth conduct of the election, all government schools, colleges, and other educational institutions in the constituency will remain closed. Special measures have been taken to ensure that voters employed in government offices, commercial establishments, and industrial units receive paid leave to cast their votes.

 

Chief Minister Mann, who shifted to Jalandhar along with his family in a rented accomodation, has campaigned vigorously for the AAP candidate Mohinder Bhagat, addressing numerous public meetings and roadshows. He has emphasized the need for continuity in governance and the importance of public support for his government’s policies. Mann's direct engagement with the electorate, including renting a house in Jalandhar to establish a direct link with voters, underscored his commitment to winning this crucial bypoll.

 

On the other hand, Congress leaders, including state party chief and Ludhiana MP Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, have targeted the turncoat candidates fielded by the BJP and AAP, urging voters to reject those who have switched allegiances for personal gain. The Congress campaign has focused on issues of governance, development, and public welfare, aiming to capitalize on the perceived failures of the AAP government.

 

BJP, with Sheetal Angural as its candidate, is seeking to make inroads in a region traditionally dominated by the Congress and AAP. Angural’s aggressive campaign, coupled with his local popularity, presented a formidable challenge to his opponents. BJP is keen to emerge from its previous electoral setbacks and establish a stronger presence in Punjab.

 

The outcome of the Jalandhar West bypoll will be a significant indicator of the current political landscape in Punjab. It will provide insights into the popularity of the ruling AAP government, the organizational strength of the Congress, and the BJP’s efforts to gain ground in the state. The results, set to be announced on July 13, will undoubtedly shape the political discourse in Punjab in the coming months.

 

As the electoral fervor grips Jalandhar West ahead of Wednesday's bypoll, triggered by the resignation of former AAP MLA Sheetal Angural, the political landscape is ablaze with anticipation. This crucial contest has drawn significant attention, not just for its immediate implications but for the broader narrative it could shape in Punjab's political arena. Here's a detailed look at the five prominent candidates vying to sway the electorate and claim this pivotal assembly seat.

 

AAP’s Mohinder Bhagat emerged as a significant contender, carrying forward a legacy steeped in political experience and familial ties to the constituency. A matriculate and scion of BJP’s former Minister and three-time MLA Chunni Lal Bhagat, Mohinder transitioned to AAP in a notable political shift in 2023. His decision to switch parties, albeit causing some familial tension, underscored his commitment to pursue a new political direction aligned with AAP's vision for Punjab. Having contested unsuccessfully twice under BJP banner in 2017 and 2022, Mohinder’s current bid for assembly seat has been bolstered by a vigorous campaign spearheaded by Chief Minister himself, who wooed the voters with the promise to make him Minister. 

 

Congress’ Surinder Kaur brought with her extensive administrative experience as a four-time councillor and former senior deputy mayor in Jalandhar. Educated in pre-medical studies, she has a strong electoral record since the late 1990s. The Congress sees the Jalandhar West constituency as crucial following recent successes in Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat, with former Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi elected as MP. In past elections, Congress secured over 44,000 votes, narrowly beating BJP’s 42,000 votes, fueling the saffron party’s confidence for the bypoll. 

 

BJP’s Sheetal Angural brought a dynamic political trajectory to the forefront of Jalandhar West bypoll. Initially aligning with the BJP, he later joined AAP, only to return to his roots with the saffron party ahead of recent Lok Sabha elections. Angural's electoral success in 2022, defeating the Congress candidate by a narrow margin, underscored his local appeal and strategic political maneuvering. 

 

SAD’s Surjit Kaur, former two-time councilor, brought a unique profile to the electoral fray despite her lack of formal education. Known for her frequent party shifts, she recently made headlines by rejoining the SAD after a brief stint with the AAP — all in a day, asserting her unwavering loyalty to the regional party. Her campaign suffered a major setback with SAD withdrawing its support and instead backing the BSP candidate. Despite contesting on the SAD symbol “takdi” (scales), Surjit Kaur was dubbed as the “weak candidate” fielded by the party’s rebel faction to harm SAD chief Sukhbir Badal’s standing. 

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