Jalandhar West bypoll: Multi-cornered electoral contest, litmus test for Bhagwant Mann

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Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann with party's candidate, for Jalandhar West seat, Mohinder Bhagat

Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann with party's candidate, for Jalandhar West seat, Mohinder Bhagat

Jalandhar: The bypoll to the Jalandhar West assembly segment in Punjab on Wednesday is being seen as a litmus test for Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, who has pulled out all the stops to register a win after the party's drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls.

The seat is witnessing a multi-cornered electoral fight, with the AAP, Congress and BJP vying to outdo each other in the reserve constituency.

The Jalandhar West assembly seat fell vacant after Sheetal Angural resigned as an Aam Aadmi Party legislator.

Fifteen candidates are in the fray for the by-election while there are a total of 1.72 lakh voters who are eligible to cast their votes. The votes will be counted on July 13.

The ruling AAP has fielded Mohinder Bhagat, who is the son of former minister and former BJP MLA Bhagat Chunni Lal. Bhagat had joined the AAP after quitting the BJP last year.

Bhagat, who belongs to the Bhagat community, had unsuccessfully contested from this seat in 2017 and 2022 assembly elections on BJP tickets.

The Congress has placed its bet on Surinder Kaur, who is the former senior deputy mayor and five-time municipal councillor in Jalandhar. She is a prominent Dalit leader of the Ravidassia community.

The BJP has fielded Angural, who switched sides in March after quitting the AAP. He had won this seat in the 2022 Punjab assembly polls on an AAP ticket. Angural belongs to the Sialkotia Ravidassia community.

Though the Shiromani Akali Dal had fielded Surjit Kaur for the bypoll, the Sukhbir Badal-led outfit later withdrew its support and disowned her.

The SAD had also announced to support Bahujan Samaj Party nominee Binder Kumar for the bypoll.

However, a section of SAD leaders, who revolted against Badal, is supporting Kaur in the bypoll.

The victory is the poll is important for Mann as his party faced a drubbing in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls in which it could win only three of 13 parliamentary constituencies.

Mann led the AAP's poll campaign and canvassed for party nominee Bhagat by holding public meetings and roadshows. He sought votes for the works, including free electricity and mohalla clinics, carried out by his government in the past two years.

Mann rented a house in Jalandhar and moved there along with his family and had said he would keep the house even after the bypoll. The chief minister had said that he would meet people of Doaba and Majha regions for two days a week to get their routine works done.

He had even hinted at making Bhagat a minister in his cabinet, if elected.

Attacking BJP candidate Angural, Mann had accused him of betraying voters of the Jalandhar West assembly segment.

"Nowadays BJP is the first choice of corrupt leaders," Mann had alleged.

Mann's wife Gurpreet Kaur also canvassed for the AAP nominee to seek votes. Most of the AAP MLAs and ministers and three MPs remained present in the assembly segment to campaign in favour of Bhagat.

The stakes are also high for the main opposition Congress which wants its candidate Surinder Kaur to register victory after winning seven of the 13 Lok Sabha constituencies.

During the campaign, Punjab Congress chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, leader of opposition Partap Singh Bajwa, Jalandhar MP Charanjit Singh Channi and other senior party leaders, including MPs, canvassed for Kaur and targeted the AAP government over many issues, including drug menace and law and order.

Bajwa had said the AAP will face a "humiliating defeat" in the bypoll.

"Had the AAP government performed well in its 2.5 years of the regime, it would not have to put so much effort into convincing the voters of the Jalandhar West assembly segment. It establishes that the AAP government has failed miserably to work in the state and fulfil its guarantees", Bajwa had said.

Prestige is also at stake for the BJP which also wants to emerge victorious in the Jalandhar West seat after drawing a blank in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Punjab BJP chief Sunil Jakhar and several other leaders, including Kewal Dhillon, Jai Inder Kaur, Anita Som Parkash, campaigned for Angural.

A total of 181 polling stations will be set up for the bypoll and there will be 100 percent live webcasting of polling stations.

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