Candidates – AAP, Congress, BJP, SAD
The Jalandhar parliamentary constituency of Punjab is undergoing a by-election due to the sad and untimely demise of its incumbent Member of Parliament (MP), Shri Sankokh Chaudhary. The election is scheduled on 10 May and the result will be declared on 13 May.
The election is unlikely to make any impact at the national level and will be valid for less than a year since the next round of parliamentary elections are due in the first half of 2024. Its importance, however, lies in the fact that it is a testing ground for the public mood and will impact the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
Jalandhar is an ancient city whose mention is found in the Vedas and was part of the Indus Valley civilisation. In the present context it is the centre of Punjab and boasts of fertile lands and a vibrant industry for sports goods, machine tools and leather items among other items. It is an old cantonment that today houses a Corps Headquarter of the Indian Army which adds to its significance in security aspects. It is a preferred place of residence for retired Army officers and bureaucrats.
As the election campaign progresses, new equations that are emerging with a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) getting ready to occupy its legitimate space in the politics of the state, that had been denied to it due to a long two decade plus debilitating coalition with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
Jalandhar is a constituency reserved for the scheduled caste category. This adds to its political significance since Punjab has a significant 32 percent Other Backward Caste (OBC) population with an enhanced presence in the constituency. The OBC segment here is divided into a number of sub-caste of which the Ramdasi and Valmiki Samaj are the most significant.
The Jalandhar constituency has been with the Congress party since 2014 with the deceased Santokh Chaudhary having won in 2014 and 2019. The Congress is planning to ride a sympathy wave by fielding Karamjit Chaudhary, the wife of Late Santokh Chaudhary as a candidate.
The party, however, is likely to face a strong anti-incumbency due to its inability to usher any tangible development in the two terms that it held the seat and more so during the time when the party was running the state government and representing the constituency as well.
Particular disenchantment is due to the failure to take forward the Jalandhar Smart City project for which the Union Government gave a sanction in 2019 and also released the first instalment of funds to the tune of INR 360 crores.
The massive matric-scholarship scam that rocked the previous Congress led government and which involved embezzlement of funds meant for poor students of the OBC category and the deteriorating facilities for the all important Industrial sector under the watch of the Congress party has left the people worried and disillusioned. The general impression is that when the party had the power to make a difference in Jalandhar it chose to ignore the constituency, now it is in no position to move things either in the centre or in the state government apparatus, so, nothing can be expected from it.
The BJP has homed on to a strong candidate, Inder Iqbal Singh Atwal, who belongs to a well liked political family aligned with the Valmiki Samaj. His father Charanjit Singh Atwal was the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha at one point in time. The BJP has put its collective might behind its candidate
BJP Candidate – Inder Iqbal Singh Atwal
A big advantage that can accrue from a BJP MP is implementation of such central schemes which have benefited other states across the country but are not being able to gain a foothold in Punjab due to blinkered political grudges of the ruling parties – first the Congress and now the AAP.
Atwal will be in a position to give a considerable boost to the implementation in Jalandhar of central schemes like Sukanya Samridhi Account; Ujjwala Yojana, Deen Dayal Upadhya Antyodaya Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana and Mudra Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana and Suraksha Yojana, Atal Pension Yojana and many others. Farmers in the fertile region will accrue benefits from schemes like Fasal Bima Yojana; Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana and National Agriculture Marketing (e-NAM). The list is very long.
It is also felt that Atwal will be in a position to oversee the Smart City Project and give it the required momentum. Under his watch the industry in Jalandhar will receive special attention from the centre.
There is growing disenchantment of the voter with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that swept the Vidhan Sabha (State Legislative Assembly) polls in Punjab in February, 2022 with a huge margin.
The euphoria with which Punjab opted for change has gone down considerably due to the inability of the government to deliver on its promises and provide sustainable economy/law and order and other such fundamentals of governance.
The people are more worried about the growing cases of corruption in which the leaders of the party are involved at its central and state level. In February this year, Amit Rattan Kotfatta, AAP MLA from Bhatinda (Rural) was arrested in a corruption case after his aide was caught accepting ₹4 lakh bribe. Earlier, in May last year, Vijay Singla, who was then the health minister in the AAP led Government of Punjab, was arrested for allegedly demanding a 1% commission for a tender.
The inability of Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann to bring his corrupt party members to book is a big reason of worry for the people of Punjab. Due to such inaction extortion and bribery continues to be rampant within the government machinery of the state. The fact that senior leaders of the party central organisation like Satinder Jain and Manish Sisodia are also under arrest for corruption charges has a huge impact on the collective psyche of the people.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is presently grappling with the sad demise of its patriarch Sardar Prakash Singh Bada. It has to reinvent itself to find a tangible political space in Punjab. The people are not very happy with the manner in which the Panthic agenda and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) are being leveraged for self seeking politics of a single family.
Though the product of an unfortunate circumstance of the demise of its sitting MP, Santokh Chaudhary, the Jalandhar by-election has the potential of ushering a new thought process, wherein, merit will play a predominant role in elections in Punjab. The voter is intelligent and aware . It is for this reason that all eyes are on Punjab as the election campaign gains momentum.