Political and development issues have been overshadowed in the campaign for the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha by-election that has been dominated by personal attacks and sleaze -- leaving voters to decide who is cleaner in an otherwise dirty mess.Charges of rape, cheating, extortion and other immoral acts, including sex videos and photographs, are flying thick and fast among candidates and the leaders supporting them.The fight for the seat was supposed to be a direct one between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is supported by alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), and the Congress party. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is the main opposition party in the Punjab assembly, too is trying hard to sustain itself politically in this bypoll.The BJP is seeking to retain the seat, which fell vacant in April after the demise of actor-politician Vinod Khanna due to cancer, while the Congress, which came to power in Punjab in March after a thumping victory in the assembly polls, is trying to wrest the seat.While the BJP has fielded controversial Mumbai-based millionaire businessman Swarn Salaria, the Congress opted for state Congress president Sunil Jakhar, who is an "outsider" here. The AAP has fielded a former Army officer, Major General Suresh Khajuria (retired).The political sleaze started when senior SAD leader and former minister Sucha Singh Langah was booked by Punjab Police on charges of rape and cheating. The allegations were levelled by a 39-year-old woman, who works with Punjab Police, who said Langah had been raping her since 2009 under the threat of death.
The BJP and SAD, despite initially defending Langah, had to quickly get into damage-control mode as he was the district president of the poll-bound constituency, where election is slated for October 11.Langah, who is now in police custody, was forced to resign from all party posts and was expelled by SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal. The Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikh religion, immediately called a meeting of five Sikh high priests and excommunicated Langah.The Congress seized the opportunity to take the lead over the BJP-SAD combine.But once the Langah affair was behind them, the BJP-SAD leadership went on the political offensive.Salaria questioned the credentials of Jakhar, terming him an "outsider" who lost his assembly seat in the state elections earlier this year at a time when the Congress had swept to power, winning 77 of the 117 seats in the assembly.He questioned Jakhar on the suicide of his brother and levelled allegations regarding a woman.But Salaria, who has a controversial rags-to-riches story, is now himself facing heat with photographs and videos allegedly involving him doing the rounds of social media.The Congress has even raked up the issue of Salaria not declaring in his nomination papers that he was facing a case, filed by a woman, in a Mumbai court.Among all this mess, the voters of Gurdaspur have been left to fend for themselves -- with issues of development of this backward constituency being pushed back further.The voters are not even clear whether to opt for the party (BJP) in power at the Centre or the party (Congress) in power in the state. The third option, AAP -- whose candidate, Major General Khajuria, is a respected local -- is only adding to the confusion.