Call it momentum or even its opposite: inertia. But bypoll results rarely go against the ruling dispensation, especially in its early days. The Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency result, therefore, was not entirely unexpected. What was unexpected was the record victory margin of the Congress candidate Sunil Jakhar. He polled nearly 5 lakh votes—and ended up nearly 2 lakh ahead of the runner-up. Even the handsome and popular Bollywood star Vinod Khanna, whose death had necessitated the bypoll, had managed a victory margin of only 1.3 lakh votes in 2014, at the height of the Modi wave.
This does not mean, however, that Jakhar is more popular than Khanna: it’s just an index for comparative grading within the field of competition. It’s also indicative of a few things primarily related to the constituency and Punjab. Allegations of ‘misuse’ of state machinery by the BJP and AAP notwithstanding—the perennial complaint of any losing side, and not any less (or more) credible for that—the results show Jakhar had a much stronger appeal than the BJP’s Swaran Singh Salaria, that CM Amarinder Singh is still very much in his honeymoon period, and the anger against the previous Akali Dal-BJP regime is still palpable. Even Khanna, who won four times from Gurdaspur, was not entirely immune to the ebb and flow of wider trends—he had lost the seat in 2009.
The fall of a BJP stronghold may be packaged as a Diwali gift for Rahul Gandhi prior to his anointment as Congress president, but it would be a bit of a stretch to read into it any larger meaning—or use it to forecast the coming Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. In Himachal, the Congress faces a serious challenge from the BJP for local reasons. In Gujarat, the BJP is coming off a 19-year incumbency—to counter any fatigue from that, it can count on its deep roots, besides the immense home advantage of having Gujaratis as the PM and the BJP chief. Gurdaspur, as of now, is just Gurdaspur.