Counting of votes in the high-stakes Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll took place on Sunday morning, the voting to which took place on Wednesday. The bypoll is being viewed as a barometer for the popularity of the six-month-old Congress government in the state. The Gurdaspur seat fell vacant following the demise of actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna of the BJP in April.

On 9 October, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh had expressed confidence of winning the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha by-election “with a margin of over two lakhs”, saying his government has brought the state’s economy back on track.

The Leader of Opposition, Sukhpal Singh Khaira of AAP, said:

While Congress looks set for a major win, AAP candidate Major General (Retd) Suresh Khajuria loses his deposit after crashing out of the race. At last count, Congress’ Sunil Jakhar is heading towards a big victory with a lead of 1.7 lakh votes.

According to CNN News 18, the role played by former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal, who managed the poll campaign for the BJP-Akali Dal combine, is now being questioned. Despite huge investment in terms of time and money, he now finds himself trailing by a huge margin.

In another report in The Indian Express, former cabinet minister Sucha Singh Langah of the Akali Dal is said to have indirectly helped the Congress’ campaign. He had contested unsuccessfully from this constituency in 2012 and 2017 Assembly elections. On 28 September, just at the start of the election campaign, he was accused of rape and the attention of whole campaign got shifted to his alleged crime.

Congress leaders and workers have started celebrating the impending victory by bursting crackers and distributing sweets in Gurdaspur, Chandigarh and other places.

Congress candidate Sunil Jakhar is ahead of his BJP rival Swarn Salaria as votes are being counted in the 11 October by-election to the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency.

Jakhar, who is the Punjab Congress president, is leading over Salaria by over one lakh votes after ten rounds of counting. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Major General Suresh Kumar Khajuria (retd) is on the third spot. Khajuria left a counting centre alleging that the voting was rigged by the Congress.

Jakhar remained in the lead from the beginning as the counting of votes polled in the October 11 bypoll began on earlier in the day.

The seat was earlier held by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had won it in the 2014 general elections.

Counting of votes polled in the 11 October by-election to the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency began on Sunday. The counting was being conducted in centres in Gurdaspur and Pathankot towns.

The fate of 11 candidates will be decided by Sunday afternoon. Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Swarn Salaria, Congress’ Sunil Kumar Jakhar, and Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Major General Suresh Kumar Khajuria (retd) are the main contenders.

The fight is crucial for the BJP which is trying to retain the seat, the Congress which recently came to power in Punjab and the AAP which is trying to emerge as a strong contender.

The voter turnout recorded today was 56 percent, lower than 70.03 percent recorded in the 2014 general elections.

Out of the nine assembly segments falling under the constituency, the Dera Baba Nanak Vidhan Sabha constituency registered maximum 65 percent voting. The Batala Vidhan Sabha constituency recorded the lowest at 50 percent, he said.

Sujanpur recorded 54 percent, Bhoa 60 percent, Pathankot, Gurdaspur and Dinanagar 54 percent each, Qadian 57 percent and Fatehgarh Churian 63 percent.

The polling percentage in the assembly segments was lower than that recorded in the 2017 assembly elections.

Till 3 pm today, the Gurdaspur by-polls saw around 41 percent voter turnout. Polling remained largely peaceful except a minor clash between Congress and Akali-BJP workers, an official said.

The SAD accused the Congress, which is ruling Punjab, of threatening Akali workers. “Congress workers thrashed Akali workers in Pahra village today and no FIR has been registered yet,” SAD spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema alleged.

On the other hand, AAP candidate retired Major General Suresh Khajuria filed a complaint with the Election Commission (EC) alleging that a Congress worker was trying to influence voters inside a polling booth in village Pangoli in Sujanpur.

BJP candidate Swaran Singh Salaria and Congress candidate Sunil Jakhar visited the polling booth.

Salaria also caste his vote.

Voting for Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat bypoll has begun in Punjab.

A total of 1,781 polling stations have been set up at 1,257 locations, of which 457 have been declared vulnerable and 83 critical. The Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat has nine assembly segments.

Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) will be used at all polling stations. Votes will be counted on 15 October and the result will be declared the same day, the official said.

The Punjab government has declared a holiday for all offices, corporations, boards and all educational institutions in the district in view of the bypoll.

The bypoll will gauge the popularity of the Amarinder Singh government which is battling allegations of reneging on its pre-assembly polls promise of farm debt waiver and free smartphones.

The Congress, which had bagged 77 seats in the 117-member Punjab Assembly in February, is keen to keep the winning momentum going.

The BJP has also tried pulling out all the stops to retain the seat, which Khanna had won four times. A victory would give much-needed boost to the BJP, which had bagged just one segment of Sujanpur out of the four seats it had contested in the assembly polls. The BJP’s win will also provide a breather to its ally Shiromani Akali Dal, which had been relegated to the third spot in the assembly polls.

The AAP, the main opposition party in Punjab with 20 seats in the House, is also looking to strengthen its presence in the state.

Polling for the high-stakes Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll, which is being seen as a barometer for the popularity of the six-month-old Congress government in Punjab, will be held today.

The seat, which fell vacant following the demise of actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna of the BJP in April, is expected to witness a three-horse race between the Congress, the BJP and the AAP.

While the Congress has fielded its Punjab unit chief Sunil Jakhar, the BJP has put up businessman Swaran Salaria.

The AAP has placed a bet on Major General (retd) Suresh Khajuria.

Around 30 companies of paramilitary forces and 7,000 Punjab police personnel have been deployed in the constituency.

(With inputs from PTI)

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