Liberal Opinion: AAP sets the agenda for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections with a win Jalandhar by poll

All is fair in love and war. So is the electoral battle for political supremacy.
The Just concluded Jalandhar Lok Sabha by poll has reiterated the roar of rulers while remaining cry hoarse.

Sushil Kumar Rinku, who changed loyalties from Congress to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) just on eve of the crucial by poll, turned out to be a trump card in a battle that featured three sitting or ex-legislators besides the widow of the incumbent.

Stakes were high as all four main claimants to the seat for the remainder of the term went all out to win the mandate of this hot bed of Dalit politics. Congress, first to announce its candidate, named Karamjit Kaur, widow of Chaudhary Santokh Singh, whose untimely death led to this by poll.

Chaudhary family has been a dominant and popular political family of the Doab and has perhaps more legislative representations than any other single Dalit family in the state.

Groupism in the Punjab Congress notwithstanding,  all senior leaders pledged their  support to the Chaudhary family. Even Navjot Singh Sidhu, after release from Patiala jail, was among the first Congress leaders to visit Chaudhary family, to extend his support to Karamjit Kaur.
A party stronghold, Jalandhar has been voting for the Congress nominee for the last five consecutive terms since 1999. Karamjit, who studied MPhil and MA in history and English, has a rapport with people across the constituency. She served as the Principal, Government Arts and Sports College, Jalandhar.  When she superannuated she was  Director of Public Instructions (Colleges). Since then, she has been actively campaigning for her husband as well as son Vikramjit Singh Chaudhary, an MLA from Phillaur.
Chaudhary Santokh Singh represented a prominent political family. His father Master Gurbanta Singh was a minister and a seven-time MLA. His brother Chaudhary Jagjit Singh too was a minister and a five-time MLA. Besides winning the Lok Sabha poll in 2014 and 2019, Santokh Singh Chaudhary was a three-time MLA and served as a minister twice.
Politics comes naturally to Karamjit Kaur, who had been playing the role of a King Maker. Her son is a sitting member of Punjab Vidhan Sabha. Though it was her first electoral battle, her performance against the might of a ruling party  makes her a strong contender when the general elections are called next year. She lost to her former party colleague and ex-MLA, Sushil Kumar Rinku, by nearly 60,000 votes in a quadrangular contest.
After Congress, Punjab’s ruling party AAP was in a quandary in finding a suitable candidate. Though it had won 92 seats in the 2022 State Assembly elections, its performance then was not satisfactory as it won only in four of nine Lok Sabha segments.
Its choice fell on Sushil Kumar Rinku who offered to quit Congress in return for a ticket to Lok Sabha. The pact worked. Being a former Congress legislator with substantial Dalit backing, Sushil Kumar Rinku lived up to his promise in making a major dent in his former party stronghold and give AAP its first ever Lok Sabha seat from the Doab region.
Incidentally, Sushil Kumar will be now the sole representative of AAP in Lok Sabha. The last AAP leader to sit in Lok Sabha was Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann who had to quit his seat after his election as Chief Minister of Punjab in March last year. In the subsequent Sangrur Lok Sabha by poll, AAP could not retain the seat that went to Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) chief, Simranjt Singh Mann.
AAP needed to salvage some of its pride before the 2024 general elections. And Jalandhar provided the opportunity that AAP accepted. It was difficult and tough with all major political players making it a prestigious contest.
The semi-final has gone to AAP. It has improved its vote share in Jalandhar considerably. It was also a morale booster for the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bahujan Samaj Party (SAD-BJP) alliance as it pushed BJP to fourth spot. By polling 1.58 lakh votes, the SAD-BSP candidate, Dr Sukhwinder Kumar Sukhi, a sitting SAD MLA from Banga, proved he is no push over. Fighting against all odds, including losing popularity of his party, Sukhwinder Kumar Sukhi, has provided a ray of hope for the SAD.
Inder Iqbal Singh Atwal, who along with his father Charanjit Singh Atwal, had switched loyalties from SAD to BJP, finished  fourth, just 24000 votes behind SAD-BSP candidate. The BJP could not have asked for more as it has been successful in sending a message that it could contest any Punjab seat on its own. It was the second time that BJP contested independently after Sangrur and finished among top four on both the occasions.
The Jalandhar by poll provided a fair opportunity to all major political players to assess their strengths and weaknesses and identify areas where they have to work more before the 2024 elections.

(Prabhjot Singh is a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience of 14 years with Reuters News and 30 years with The Tribune Group, covering a wide spectrum of subjects and stories. He has covered Punjab and Sikh affairs for more than three decades besides covering seven Olympics and several major sporting events and hosting TV shows.)