Congress leader Sunil Jakhar and BJP rival Swaran Salaria on Friday filed their nominations for the 11 October by-election in the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency, with senior Congress leader Pratap Singh Bajwa a noticable absentee among leaders accompanying Jakhar.
Top Punjab Congress leaders, including Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, accompanied Jakhar when he submitted his nomination papers for the seat, which Bajwa represented during 2009-14 after defeating actor and then three-time sitting MP Vinod Khanna of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Khanna, who regained the seat in 2014, died in April, necessitating the bypoll.
Bajwa, presently a Rajya Sabha MP and a former Punjab Congress chief, belongs to Gurdaspur district. His legislator wife Charanjit Kaur Bajwa also stayed away though his younger brother and legislator, Fatehjang Bajwa, was present.
Bajwa wanted the Congress ticket for his wife and opposed the selection of Jakhar, currently the Punjab Congress President and son of former Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jakhar.
The seat fell vacant in April following demise of Vinod Khanna due to cancer. Khanna held the seat from 1998 to 2004 and from 2014 till his death.
On Bajwa's absence, Amarinder Singh -- who supported Jakhar for the ticket -- said there were "no differences" within the Congress. He said Bajwa would campaign for Jakhar.
Hailing from the Abohar belt in southwest Punjab and considered an outsider in Gurdaspur by some, Sunil Jakhar has the backing of Amarinder Singh, who led the party to a thumping victory in the February 4 assembly elections.
Salaria, a Mumbai-based millionaire businessman involved in controversies in the past, also filed his nomination papers on Friday, the last date for filing nominations. The result will be announced on October 15.
He was accompanied by Punjab BJP President and Union Minister Vijay Sampla and alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal's President Sukhbir Badal.
Jakhar lost in last assembly polls even though the Congress won 77 of the 117 assembly seats. He was made Punjab Congress President in May.
The bypoll will see a tough fight between the BJP and the Congress, fresh from its emphatic win in assembly elections.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the main opposition party in the assembly, could play a spoiler. It has fielded Major General Suresh Khajuria (retd) for the seat.
The BJP preferred Salaria over Kavita Khanna, Vinod Khanna's widow.
Vinod Khanna had stormed the Congress bastion on his electoral debut in 1998, defeating five-time Congress MP Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder. He won the seat in 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2014.