- Kuljit Bains
Byelections are never supposed to mean much. But the one for the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat has turned out to be more shameful than uninspiring, considering the way political parties have gone about selecting their candidates and the subsequent campaigns. With two days to go for the polling, the voter is expected to have made up his mind by now. If indeed he decides to go out and cast his vote, it is likely to be more owing to his sense of duty than a desire to see someone elected.
The farce began with the way the Congress and BJP selected their candidates. Infighting in the Congress ensured the candidate was not announced till the very announcement of the elections, exposing the minutest fault lines in their camp. The final announcement that Sunil Jakhar, an outsider (no matter how he fights that tag), was the party’s pick only proved it had been unable to build a leader with widespread credibility in the constituency. It was a decision that seemed compelled more by the need to rehabilitate the state party president than any care for the constituency.
The BJP choice came at the end of a battle between legacy and money. Of course, money won. But the voter was held out no better promise than the Congress with BJP nominee Swaran Salaria, who has all his businesses in faraway Mumbai, too an “outsider.” AAP, that claims to be a serious contender, ran a hard campaign. It may cite the increasingly unconvincing excuse of being a newbie, but the fact is its candidate, Maj Gen Suresh Khajuria (retd)can claim credit only for the work he did while in uniform (no doubt, the most respected one), not among the people of the constituency. Given the choice of candidates, the voters could have at best looked forward to an opportunity to highlight their problems and extract promises where possible — revival of Batala industry, railway crossings in Pathankot or waterlogging in Dinanagar. None of that. Instead, they had to suffer perhaps one of the sleaziest campaigns in history, with the Congress taking the crown.
Even as there is no evidence of the Congress role in the release of a video featuring a powerful local Akali leader, it was the first stone cast. The rivals responded in kind. There were references to a woman associate of a top state Congress leader and a video, allegedly ‘fake’, emerged of a lesser Congress leader from a neighbouring district. The discourse hit a nauseating low when a state minister at a press conference referred to the physical attributes of the Akali leader “featuring in the video.”
At the end of it all, there will be a winner declared on October 15. The loser, of course, we already know — the voter. For the crores spent by the state exchequer to uphold democracy for the sake of security, welfare and development, all the voter would have got is cheap entertainment. For the political parties, it would be time to start preparing for the next outing, at the cost of the taxpayer.