Will Congress heavyweight Bhalla retain Jammu’s Gandhinagar?
Senior Congress leader Raman Bhalla is seeking re-election from this Jammu district constituency for a third time, but he faced a tough challenge from BJP’s Kavinder Gupta.
Gandhinagar has 166,132 voters. It is largely believed that the loyalties of social and religious groups will determine the winner — and losers. With some 62,000 Sikh voters in Gandhinagar, Bhalla’s rivals in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the National Conference and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have fielded Sikh candidates from here.
The Sikhs live mostly in Nanak Nagar, Satwari, Chatha and Digiana localities.
The PDP nominee is Amrik Singh. The National Confernce has put up Surinder Singh while the BSP has fielded Ravinder Singh.
It is the support of the Sikhs that Bhalla’s rivals are largely banking on.
But the main challenge to the Congress heavyweight comes from Kavinder Gupta of the Bharatiya Janata Party who of course is depending on the Modi Magic to dislodge the otherwise well entrenched Congress candidate.
There is a sizeable portion of Hindu Mahajan trading community in Gandhinagar who live in Trikota Nagar, Chini Himmat and Gandhinagar localities besides nearly 8,000 Muslims spread in different parts.
Many former soldiers live in Sainik Colony and Greater Kailash who appear to favour the BJP because of Modi’s one rank-one pension stand for ex-servicemen.
The Congress suffered a rude jolt in the 2014 Lok Sabha election in the Gandhinagar assembly segment when BJP’s Jugul Kishore led with over 38,000 votes against Madan Lal Sharma of the Congress.
Congress candidate Bhalla has won from here in 2002 and 2008. In 1996 the BJP’s Chowdhary Piara Singh was the victor.
In 1957, the Gandhinagar seat went to Praja Parishad’s Rajinder Singh. The party later merged with the Jana Singh, the BJP’s predecessor.
Kulbir Singh of the National Conference was the winner in 1962, followed by Trilochan Dutt of the Congress in 1967, 1972, 1977 and 1983. In 1987, Gandhinagar elected independent candidate H.S. Bali.
Election rallies of both the Congress and the BJP have been well attended now.
While perceptions about the popularity of the contestants might vary from voter to voter, Bhalla undoubtedly faces the toughest challenge of his political career.
A total of 172 polling stations would be set up in Gandhinagar, which will go to the polls in the fifth and final phase Dec 20.