eyeing Punjab footprint expansion Jakhar hits the ground

July 20, 2023

Days after being appointed as the Punjab BJP chief, Sunil Jakhar has hit the ground running with plans to hold party meetings in all 13 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.

On a whirlwind tour of the constituencies, Jakhar reached his fourth pit stop Gurdaspur on Wednesday. He said, “We have planned meetings in all the 13 parliamentary constituencies in the coming days.”

Jakhar’s elevation in the Punjab BJP is part of the party’s efforts to establish itself as a key player in state politics after coming out of the shadow of its former ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

Hitherto limited mainly to urban areas, the BJP plans to widen its base in all 13 Lok Sabha constituencies, looking for expansion in rural belts as well. The party’s Punjab affairs in-charge Vijay Rupani has maintained that it will contest alone all the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the 2024 polls.

As per the seat sharing arrangement between the BJP and the Akali Dal, before the two parted ways in 2020 over the now-repealed farm laws, the SAD used to contest on 10 Lok Sabha seats and the BJP on three, including Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur.

The 10 seats where the SAD then used to field its candidates included Jalandhar, Khadoor Sahib, Ferozepur, Faridkot, Bathinda, Sangrur, Patiala, Ludhiana, Fatehgarh Sahib and Anandpur Sahib.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, both the allies won two seats each. The Congress won eight and the AAP one. In last year’s Sangrur bypoll, which was necessitated after AAP leader Bhagwant Mann vacated it to take over as Punjab Chief Minister, SAD (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann had emerged victorious.

While Ferozepur has SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal as its MP, his wife and former Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal is the Bathinda MP. Veteran BJP leader and Union minister Som Parkash is the Hoshiarpur MP and actor Sunny Deol, who was fielded by the BJP in 2019, is the MP from Gurdaspur.

In the 2019 elections, Jakhar, who was then the sitting Congress MP from Gurdaspur, had lost to Deol. He had been elected as the MP from Gurdaspur in 2017, winning by over 1.93 lakh votes in a bypoll held after then sitting BJP MLA, actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna, had passed away. Deol has been facing allegations of “abandoning” his constituency.

Jakhar met the party cadre in Ludhiana on Sunday, Jalandhar on Monday and in Hoshiarpur on Tuesday.

Jalandhar is currently represented by AAP MP Sushil Kumar Rinku, who won the May 10 bypoll following the demise of Congress MP Chaudhary Santokh Singh. Rinku became the AAP nominee after switching from the Congress. BJP candidate Inder Iqbal Singh Atwal, who had switched from the SAD, had finished fourth, behind the Congress’s Karamjit Kaur Chaudhary and the SAD’s Sukhwinder Singh Sukhi.

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Meanwhile, both the BJP and the Akali Dal have so far denied the buzz that they are going to restitch their alliance. For the SAD, though, alliance with the BJP is becoming untenable by the day, as the latter is no longer willing to remain the junior partner. The SAD also finds itself opposed to some of the BJP-led Centre’s policies, including the proposed Uniform Civil Code (UCC).