The seat was a bastion of the Congress, which had won it for four consecutive terms.
The Jalandhar Lok Sabha byelection victory on May 13 has given the ruling AAP in Punjab a much-needed boost after it suffered a debacle on its home turf, Sangrur, barely three months after sweeping the State Assembly election in 2022.
The Hindu-majority Jalandhar constituency, which is reserved for Scheduled Castes, fell vacant after Congress MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary (76) died of a heart attack during the Bharat Jodo Yatra earlier this year.
The constituency was a Congress bastion, with the party having won it for the last four consecutive terms. But this time, the party candidate did not get support from the Congress high command, which was busy with the Karnataka Assembly election. The byelection was held on May 10 and the result was declared on May 13.
AAP candidate Sushil Kumar Rinku (46), a former Congress leader who switched parties on April 5, won the byelection poll by a margin of over 58,000 votes. He defeated his nearest rival and Congress nominee Karamjit Kaur Chaudhary, widow of Santokh Singh Chaudhary.
Low turnout, no sympathy factor
The total voter turnout of 54.70 per cent was well below the 63.04 per cent recorded in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, and there was no sympathy factor at work during the election.
The parents of slain singer Sidhu Moose Wala, Balkaur Singh, and Charan Kaur, had campaigned against the AAP alleging lopsided investigation in their son’s murder case, but it did not stop Rinku from winning.
Rinku was a ward councillor until 2017, when he was elected as MLA from Jalandhar West constituency. In the 2022 Assembly election, he lost to the AAP’s Sheetal Angural.
The Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) bad performance continued after it registered its worst performance in the Assembly election last year. The demise of SAD leader and former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal could not pull in enough votes for SAD candidate Sukhwinder Sukhi, who got 1,58,445 votes. The medico-turned-politician was nominated by the SAD in association with the BSP. Notably, the BSP on its own had polled 2.04 lakh votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
The BJP, which had been a junior ally of the SAD so far, finished fourth. Its candidate, Inder Iqbal Singh Atwal, polled over 1.34 lakh votes, indicating that the BJP has been making inroads into Punjab’s Dalit voter base ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election. (In 2020 the SAD walked out of its alliance with the BJP, after nearly 25 years, amid a massive farmers’ movement against the Central government’s three controversial farm laws.)
Even after a landslide victory in the State assembly election last year, the AAP ended up facing defeat in the Sangrur Lok Sabha byelection. The seat fell vacant after Bhagwant Mann became Chief Minister. The byelection was a test of the AAP’s popularity and a prestige issue for the party. It had left no stone unturned to bag the seat. AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal campaigned in the constituency for at least three days, while Mann held rallies and roadshows over eight days.
Although Rinku lauded Mann’s policies and the role of party volunteers during the election campaign, he credited the free power scheme for domestic consumers in particular for his victory.
On the campaign trial, Kejriwal sought votes by listing the party’s decision to give free electricity and permanent jobs and its plan to regularise services of certain contractual employees.
The AAP had swept the Punjab Assembly election by winning 92 of the 117 seats with the slogan “Ek mauka Kejriwal nu (A chance to Kejriwal)”, underlining a narrative that the SAD and the Congress did not address the longstanding issues of the State and that the people should give an opportunity to the AAP.
Significantly, issues such as the crackdown on pro-Khalistan preacher Amritpal Singh and his supporters and sympathisers also did not affect the AAP’s performance.
In the Sangrur byelection, the issues of Khalistan and the deaths of Sidhu Moosewala and actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu played a key role in ensuring the victory of Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann.