BJP shortlists actor Akshaye Khanna for seat his father represented — Gurdaspur

Man Aman Singh Chhina
Actor Akshaye Khanna and wife of Vinod Khanna, Kavita Khanna. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal/File)

The BJP is learnt to have shortlisted several names for the three Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, which it will contest along with its alliance partner, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), with Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs, Hardip Puri being among those considered for Amritsar and Bollywood star Akshaye Khanna in the panel of names for Gurdaspur.

A senior BJP functionary said that there were multiple names in the panel which were being shortlisted for the three seats - Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur - in Punjab and that a final call will be taken on the name of the candidates in a couple of weeks. "Since polling in Punjab is slated to take place at the fag end of the election schedule, the announcement of the names may take some time," said the leader who did not want to be named.

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It is learnt that apart from Hardip Puri, the BJP is also considering asking senior advocate H S Phoolka if he would be willing to fight from the seat. Phoolka, who has resigned from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as well as his legislative assembly seat from Dakha, though his resignation is yet to be accepted, has not shown any indication of taking the electoral plunge. BJP insiders say that the party is keen on a Sikh face for Amritsar and that Phoolka's success in prosecuting the 1984 anti-Sikh riot cases would win him considerable support.

Former BJP Minister in the state, Anil Joshi and former state Vice President, Rajinder Mohan Singh Chhina, are also in the race for the BJP ticket from Amritsar. Chhina had contested the 2017 Lok Sabha bypoll from the constituency, but had lost to the Congress candidate Gurjit Singh Aujla. The seat had fallen vacant after the resignation of Capt Amarinder Singh, following the Congress coming to power in Punjab.

It is in Gurdaspur that the BJP is trying to put the most aggressive front against the sitting MP Sunil Jakhar by actively considering fielding either Kavita Khanna, the wife of late Vinod Khanna who was four-time Gurdaspur MP, or his son, Akshaye Khanna, who is an actor. "Vinod Khanna has tremendous goodwill in the Gurdaspur constituency and even the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had referred to him extensively during his Gurdaspur rally in February.

"The party feels that if Kavita Khanna has no objections then Akshaye would bring the Bollywood charm as well his father's memories to good effect and prove to be a tough match for Jakhar," said a local BJP leader in Gurdaspur.

While there appear to be inclinations towards the Khanna family, but former state BJP president and party's national vice president Ashwini Rai Khanna is also said to be under consideration for the ticket. Mumbai-based businessman, Swaran Singh Salaria, who contested the bypoll for Gurdaspur in 2017, following sitting MP Vinod Khanna's death, is also making feverish attempts to get re-nominated for the ticket. However, his chances are said to be bleak given that Modi did not even take his name during the rally held in Gurdaspur recently.

For the Hoshiarpur reserved category seat, sitting MP Vijay Sampla has the strongest claim and is likely to get repeated as he is also a Minister of State in the Union Council of Ministers. The other names on the panel for the seat are of Phagwara MLA, Som Parkash, a former IAS officer who has made a strong pitch for the seat and Rajesh Bagga, former Chairman of Punjab State SC Commission.f