Peter Masih Cheeda, the Aam Aadmi Party nominee from Gurdaspur constituency in Punjab for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, has stirred controversy while answering about the impact of the nun rape case on the voting in the Christian dominated Gurdaspur. He said that “There is no question that case will have any impact on voting pattern. The accusations have not been proved and were more in media.”
The AAP has fielded Peter Masih as its candidate from Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency, which has sizeable Christian population.
During 2017 Gurdaspur byelections, which was necessitated by BJP MP from the constituency, actor-turned-politician, Vinod Khanna’s death, AAP candidate Maj Gen Suresh Khajuria (retd) had faced a major defeat. The AAP candidate had lost despite the fact that then Catholic Church Bishop of Punjab and spokesperson of Masih Maha Sabha, Bishop Franco Mulakkal had announced to extend community’s support to Khajuria,
Mulakkal is the accused in Kerala nun rape case. He is also the first bishop in Indian Catholic history to be arrested in a rape case.
Surprisingly, this time too, AAP is counting on the Christian votes in the constituency, but the fact that Franco Mulakkal’s announcement in the last election did not help the party does not seem to bother Pater.
He remains unruffled at the fact that Mulakkal is a rape accused and feels that the accusation would have no impact on the voting pattern in Gurudaspur though it’s a Christian dominated constituency.
Talking to TOI, Masih said, “The government figures put Christians votes at around 7%, but I believe it is double the figure,” furthering that “Things have significantly changed now, I am going to give a tough fight to my opponents”.
He said that lack of development, poor education and health services were the main issues in the constituency, besides he intended to seek more funds for Christians. About the rape case, Masih said, “There is no question that the case will have any impact on the voting pattern”.
Meanwhile, Gurudaspur had significantly been a stronghold of Congress until BJP fielded Vinod Khanna in 1998. Since then Vinod Khanna had won the Gurudaspur seat 4 times, losing it once to the Congress in 2009, only to regain it in 2014 general elections.
Gurdaspur, which falls in the Manjha area, has never been considered to be AAP’s stronghold. In the 2014 parliamentary election, AAP candidate, Suchcha Singh Chhotepur had come on the third position after BJP and Congress.
In the 2017 byelections, the Congress won the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat which had fallen vacant following the death of Vinod Khanna of the BJP. Congress’ Sunil Jakhar defeated BJP’s Swaran Salaria with a huge margin of 1.93 lakh votes.
While Jakhar polled 4,99,752 votes, Salaria polled 3,06,533. AAP nominee Major General (Retd) Suresh Khajuria polled just 23,579 votes and forfeited his deposit.
This was, however, followed by the resignation of Khajuria from the party’s primary membership in November 2018.
Meanwhile, with the party faring badly in Gurdaspur in the last two polls, the hopes for AAP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections also appear to be bleak.