In a four-cornered contest, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab on Saturday won the Jalandhar Lok Sabha bypoll with a thumping margin of 58,691 votes by defeating its nearest rival, the Congress, which lost its traditional stronghold of 24 years to the 13-month old ruling party that was portraying a clean image and good work.
Congress rebel and AAP candidate Sushil Rinku, 47, trounced Congress' Karamjit Kaur, the wife of Santokh Chaudhary, whose death during the Bharat Jodo Yatra necessitated the bypoll.
Congress faced defeat in this seat for the first time since 1999. In the past five decades, the Congress has lost the seat only four times.
This marks the state AAP unit re-entry to the Lok Sabha. Earlier, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann was the AAP's first and lone Lok Sabha MP. He resigned from Parliament on being elected as an MLA in the 2022 Punjab Assembly elections. His party could not retain the seat vacated by him in the previous bypolls.
AAP secured 3,02,097 votes, while Congress finished with 2,43,450 votes. The Akali-BSP combine was third with 1,58,354 and the BJP came fourth place with 1,34,706 votes.
The Jalandhar parliamentary reserved seat falls in state's Dalit-dominated Doaba region.
AAP candidate Rinku enjoys a good support base in the Dalit community. The constituency has 42 per cent Dalit population.
Conceding the defeat, state Congress chief Amrinder Singh Raja Warring congratulated the Aam Aadmi Party and its candidate Sushil Rinku.
"We humbly accept people's mandate! I thank party workers, volunteers, supporters and the entire @INCPunjab leadership, for the hard work & efforts put in by them for the #JalandharByElection. I congratulate Sushil Rinku & AAP party for the victory."
Describing the "unprecedented victory" because of the Bhagwant Mann government's good work, national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said, "We do the politics of work and seek votes from people for our work, and people have put a stamp on Bhagwant Mann government's work saying 'we are with you'... This is a big message."
Chief Minister Mann said the result was an outcome of development works by the AAP government in Punjab.
Kejriwal and Mann campaigned extensively in Jalandhar, appealing to voters that it's been only one year since the AAP government was formed, and that they should be given 11 more months before the next Lok Sabha elections in 2024.
Chief Minister Mann wooed votes by saying, "You (people) kept on giving chances to the Akali Dal and the Congress for 70 years, but they did nothing for you. Just give us one more year to work. If you don't like our work, don't vote for us in 2024."
The Jalandhar bypoll was a do-or-die battle for Chief Minister Mann, says a political observer.
"AAP win stamps Mann's administrative and leadership qualities, besides building national narrative as a challenger," an observer told IANS.
In the 2022 Assembly polls, the Congress had won in five out of nine segments in the Jalandhar parliamentary seat, while the AAP bagged the remaining seats.