In the high-stakes battle for the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat, the challenge for the Congress got tougher on Monday when popular Dalit leader and former MLA Sushil Rinku crossed over to the AAP in presence of national convener Arvind Kejriwal and chief minister Bhagwant Mann.
Rinku is most likely to be named as the AAP candidate for the bypoll scheduled for May 10, even though the party has not made an official announcement.
Hours before Rinku’s formal induction into the AAP, the Congress issued an expulsion order for the leader even though reports of him crossing over had been doing the rounds over the past month.
“We follow a system of conducting surveys and asking people about their choice of candidate. It was done even during my announcement as the CM face. The party will follow the same procedure for the Jalandhar bypoll candidate,” Mann said, when asked if Rinku will be named as the candidate.
The Congress has announced Karamjit Kaur as its candidate, but the exit of a senior Dalit leader with only a little over a month left for the election is expected to deliver a big blow. Karamjit is the widow of Santokh Singh Chaudhary, who died of a heart attack during senior leader Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’. The bypoll was necessitated by his death.
According to sources, Rinku had sought a ticket from the constituency but the Congress high command chose Karamjit instead for cashing in on the “sympathy factor”. The Congress made an effort till the last minute to avoid the switch. Rinku managed to keep his formal switch to the AAP under wraps, as he was spotted at some party events including the recently held ‘Save the Constitution’ campaign.
Jalandhar has traditionally been a Congress stronghold with the party managing to win five out of nine assembly seats in the previous assembly elections despite the AAP wave. The AAP, meanwhile, is trying to make inroads into the reserved constituency and the induction of a Dalit leader could give it that much-needed boost.
A stung Congress is trying to downplay the crossover even as party leaders said it will now expose the AAP’s narrative of not fielding an “aam aadmi” but rather poach a Congress leader.
State Congress chief Amrinder Raja Warring said the AAP was picking up Congress leaders out of desperation. “But election results will make the picture crystal clear. The AAP will stand exposed,” he said.
“The AAP has picked junk from the backyard of the Congress. On top of it, Arvind Kajriwal came to make Rinku join the AAP as if a top gun was joining the party. It exposes their double standards,” said leader of the opposition Partap Singh Bajwa.
Rinku started his political career as a councillor in the civic body. After he became an MLA in 2017, his wife Sunita Rinku became a councillor from the area in 2018.
The Jalandhar bypoll has become a must-win situation for the AAP after it suffered a surprise defeat in the Sangrur Lok Sabha bypoll last year. A few weeks ago, it also inducted former Akali MLA from Jalandhar Cantonment, Jagbir Brar into its fold.