Stars are aligning well for the Bharatiya Janata Party. The party’s candidate from Punjab’s Gurdaspur constituency, Bollywood actor Sunny Deol, is leading his nearest rival, Congress’ Sunil Jhakhar, by a margin of 50,000 votes.
Gurdaspur, which borders Pakistan, is on the highway that links Jammu and Kashmir to the rest of the country. Unemployment is high in the region beset with migration, the two key issues for voters. Deol, too, raised these issues as the campaign entered the final lap.
Initially, when Deol was asked what his plans for the area were, he confessed he did not know. However, the soft-spoken actor said he would resolve any issue that the people of his constituency faced. He even pleaded ignorance on the 2016 surgical that Indian forces carried out against Pakistani terror camps across the border.
As the day of voting drew close, the Akalis and the BJP explained key issues to Deol. Dharmendra, a former superstar, also campaigned for his actor son.
Traditionally, the BJP candidate in Gurdaspur gets the backing of the Shiromani Akali Dal, one of its oldest allies. This support is a big factor in the party’s success, particularly since the district is largely urban.
When Deol entered the contest, a divide between rural and urban voters was evident, with Jhakhar getting more support from villages. The trend, however, reversed as the campaign picked up and Deol acquainted himself with area and local issues.
The Ravi river causes widespread flooding in Gurdaspur, which, combined with the poor quality of soil, makes agriculture unproductive. It is also the reason that people migrate to the Gulf, though migration to Canada and the United States is also been picking up.
It was another star, late Vinod Khanna, who made Gurdaspur a “BJP seat”. Until 1998, Gurdaspur was a Congress bastion, led by Harbans Kaur Bhinder. But in 1998, Khanna won the seat and went on to repeat the performance another three times. Khanna got bridges built, which mitigated the impact of floods, and that made him popular.
Gurdaspur is an hour’s drive from Pathankot, where an airbase was attacked by suspected Pakistan-based terrorists in January 2016. In 1947, Gurdaspur was occupied by Pakistan during Partition. It was renegotiated and made a part of India, excluding the Shakargarh tehsil that remains in Pakistan. The locals have a close language and emotional ties with Pakistani Punjab. Gurdaspur has an equal population of Sikhs and Hindus and roughly 10% of the populace is Christians. It is here that the Ahmadiyya Jama’at, whose members are a persecuted in Pakistan, has its roots.
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Updated Date: May 23, 2019 14:15:06 IST