GURDASPUR – Having conceded the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha election in 2014 to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress on Sunday was once again able to wrest the seat by recording an impressive victory margin of 1.93 lakh votes.

The by-election, necessitated after the demise of BJP MP Vinod Khanna, who had won by a 1.35 lakh vote margin, turned out to be a cakewalk for the Congress candidate and state unit chief, Sunil Kumar Jakhar. He polled 4,99,752 votes against the 3,06,553 votes cast for runner-up and BJP candidate Sawarn Singh Salaria. AAP candidate Suresh Khajuria couldn’t save his security deposit after receiving just 23,579 votes.

The previous record for the highest margin of victory in Gurdaspur was held by former Congress MP Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder, who had won with a margin of 1.51 lakh votes in 1980. Sunday’s landslide win for the Congress holds importance ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, with the party hailing it as the “people’s mandate” against the BJP.

“I had said it from the very first day that this election will be a mandate on the policies of union government led by Modi. People have vent their anger against demonetisation and GST by making me an MP with a huge margin of votes. I had asked people to vote for me and against BJP’s economic and communal agenda. People have responded to my call and it has sent a clear message to union government on the behalf of whole country that people are fed up from its policies and it is time for change,” Jakhar said.

“This is a victory for the Congress and Capt Amarinder Singh,” he said. Congratulating Jakhar, the Punjab chief minister said it is a victory for the development agenda. “Congratulations to @sunilkjakhar ji for his impressive win in #Gurdaspur bypoll, it’s a victory for @INCPunjab policies & development agenda,” Amarinder tweeted.

After tasting a humiliating defeat in Gurdaspur in 2014, the Congress did not leave any stone unturned to win the bye-election. Former PPCC president Partap Singh Bajwa had lost in all of the nine Assembly segments in 2014, including his home turf Qadian, which is represented by his MLA wife Charanjit Kaur Bajwa.

Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency comprises of nine assembly constituencies — Gurdaspur, Dinanagar, Qadian, Dera Baba Nanak, Sujanpur, Fatehgarh Churian, Bhoa, Batala and Pathankot.

Jakhar, however, has won from all the nine segments even though the Congress had lost from Sujanpur and Batala in the recent assembly elections. The seat was considered a Congress pocket borough before BJP handpicked a celebrity in Khanna in 1998. Vinod Khanna had won from the segment in 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2014.

A united face put up by the party, with Bajwa, who had earlier stayed away from the poll campaign, working in favour of Jakhar, and several other factors worked for the party. Former Akali minister Sucha Singh Langah’s sleazy video and the registration of a rape case against him is believed to have contributed to the Congress’ victory. Jakhar recorded a margin of 21,000 votes from Bajwa’s Qadian, silencing the former PCC chief’s detractors who claimed that he was not doing enough to ensure the party’s victory.

Meanwhile, BJP candidate Salaria claimed the Congress rigged the election.

“I congratulate Sunil Jakhar on his victory. At the same time, everyone knows that Congress has won this election by rigging. Government machinery was on misused to influence voters. All the officials were given targets. There was clear warning for the people that they would be implicated in false police cases if they votes for BJP,” he said.

While AAP candidate Khajuria repeated his party’s stand on EVMs. “Congress has done everything to win this election. They have tempered with EVM machines. They have uses police to keep voters at home,” he said.

Punjab cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu attempted to shift the blame on Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal and his brother-in-law former cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia for BJP’s defeat.

“It is defeat of jija-sala. People have shown them their place. Now both have become burden on BJP. Such a huge defeat is evidence of the same. The victory of Congress is such a slap in the face of jija-sala that its voice will be heard in Delhi,” said Sidhu.