<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>While preparing for the 1998 general elections, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) under L K Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee combine had announced candidates for 12 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, but had left one seat for guessing. The suspense was becoming too long, till just a day ahead of the final day of filing nominations, Bollywood actor Vinod Khanna flaked by Advani and the late Pramod Mahajan, appeared in the BJP Headquarters. Advani while announcing his candidature even didn’t mention the constituency he would contest. “Only one constituency is left unannounced. Use your acumen,” came a cryptic reply from Advani. Since then Khanna represented border seat of Gurdaspur, barring in 2009, when he lost. He was inducted into the cabinet as Union Minister for Culture and Tourism in July 2002, but six months later, he was moved to as Minister of State in the crucial Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).If Mumbai made Vinod Khanna a star, Punjab turned him a politician. People in his constancy recall him as ‘Pulon ka Raja’ – the King of Bridges’. He worked on building a dozen major and minor bridges on river Beas, Ravi and Ujh that connected Gurdaspur with the rest of Punjab and provided free heart surgeries for poor patients. “People were facing immense difficulty in commuting from Gurdaspur to Mukerian, because of the stretch of Beas River which they had to cross. There were hurdles in executing that project, but when Khanna got elected for the first time in 1998 his persistent efforts led to the construction of bridges and flyovers in Gurdaspur,” says Vijay Verma, who has worked closely with him.Although he hailed from Peshawar in Pakistan in the pre-partition era, Khanna’s Punjabi roots brought him to Gurdaspur. “He was a star, a charismatic film personality, but at the same time, a hard-working politician. Being a Punjabi, he connected to people instantaneously which explain how we went on to become a four time MP. It is impossible to make up for his loss and the void that he has left,” says Swaran Salaria, BJP’s Lok Sabha in-charge.
ALSO READ His superstar swag is what we grew up on: actors, sportspersons pay tribute to the late Vinod KhannaKhanna had last visited Gurdaspur four months ago, but his recurring absence from the constituency ever since he got elected in 2014 had become talk of the town. As an MP as well, between 1998 and 2002, till he was anointed as Minister, he had poor attendance in Lok Sabha. During that period, he asked just four questions and twice took part in discussions.“Ever since Khanna was re-elected for the fourth term, he has gone on a privileged leave, salary and all perks included,” former Congress minister Raman Bhalla claimed, but it later turned out that Khanna was ill.
ALSO READ Will miss a great actor and a gentleman: Politicians pay tribute to Vinod Khanna“It’s just that I don’t have any PR agency and I am more concerned about my constituency and political work. Acting is my bread and butter, so it’s not something that I pursue as much as I should because this was the only thing that I was trained and now I have come to politics and that’s a great responsibility. We are looking at 300 million people and their needs; so you have to be constantly in touch. So that takes all our time,” Khanna had said in an interview to DNA in 2014.Though Khanna’s family stayed with him in Mumbai, he had built a house in Pathankot where he would stay while touring the constituency.Punjab Pradesh Congress President Partap Singh Bajwa whom Khanna defeated in 2014 by over 1.36 lakh votes said he remained a friend despite being a political opponent with whom he shared victory and loss both. “He was one of my favourite actors. His death is a huge loss to film fraternity and to Parliament. We got along well, even when he was MoS in MEA and had invited me to meet him. He was open-hearted and good human being,” says Bajwa.Another BJP leader from Amritsar, Subhash Sharma highlights how Khanna was emotional about addressing issues of people and would not settle until he would resolve those issues. “That’s why he was always able to retain his connect with people. Despite being a celebrity, he was down to earth,” he says.The state BJP unit had postponed his state executive meet scheduled for Saturday and decided to hold a prayer meet for the leader in Gurdaspur. “He won thrice from his seat, lost in 2009 by only 8,000 votes and rose bock with stomping margin in 2014. He was instrumental in bridging the cities together in his constituency. He has left a huge void in the party and would be missed,” says BJP Punjab Incharge Vijay Sampla, who remembered the late actor as honest, upright and hard-working leader. As MoS for External Affairs, Khanna focused on bridging the gap between India and Pakistan through the film industry . He also led talks with the then Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath.With Khanna passing away at 70 after reportedly battling the cancer at a Mumbai hospital, people would remember this King of Bridges, not only constructing bridges on the rivers of Beas, Ravi and Ujh, but also building bridges across borders, like his mentor Vajpayee. He also bridged the gap between the tinsel world and politics as well convincing Hima Malini and later her husband Dharmindra to join politics and contest elections.