Amritsar: BJP leader Arun Jaitley faces a formidable rival in Congress’ Amarinder Singh in his maiden bid to the enter the Lok Sabha.
Election fever is gripping the holy city with Singh scheduled to pay a visit tomorrow. It is his first visit after the announcement of his candidature, 10 days after a massive roadshow of Jaitley.
When BJP announced the candidature of Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Amritsar was considered his safe passage to the Lok Sabha.
But with Congress pitting Singh against him, the contest is surely likely to be a clash of the titans.
Jaitley, however, remains unfazed by his opponent as the former commerce minister claims the groundswell against Congress “adds to my confidence”.
Singh has been an MLA from Patiala. His wife Preneet Kaur, who is minister of state for external affairs, is the Congress Lok Sabha candidate from there.
Initially he was unwilling to fight from Amritsar as he wanted to campaign for his wife.
Although Jaitley is a successful advocate and an effective orator, Singh is a formidable opponent who has a large following both among Sikh and Hindu voters.
Another plus point for Singh is that despite being in Congress he had openly opposed the army operation at the Golden Temple in 1984 and quit his Lok Sabha seat in protest.
Congress stalwart R L Bhatia had won Amritsar a record six times, but Amritsar has been voting for BJP since 2004 when the party fielded cricketer-turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu. Sidhu’s successful run, despite his outsider tag as he too is originally from Patiala, is also attributed to his following among both the communities.
It is feared that BJP’s decision to replace Sidhu, a well-known Sikh face of the party, with Jaitley may not go down well with the Sikh voters, who account for about 64 per cent of the total electorate in the constituency.
Even though SAD and BJP are running a coalition government in Punjab for the second consecutive term and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal predicting Jaitley to become the deputy prime minister if NDA comes to power, Singh can nullify all the edge Jaitley may have.
While the Narendra Modi impact is yet to be felt in Amritsar, reports of alleged eviction of Sikh farmers from Gujarat’s Kutch region has found resonance in Punjab and it may go against Jaitley.
Sidhu’s record will be hardly helpful for Jaitley as he has not been able to do much for the constituency. Sidhu has shared an uneasy relation with the party’s ruling ally Shiromani Akali Dal.
In 2009, Sidhu had polled 3,92,046 votes, or 31.59 per cent, defeating Om Parkash Soni of Congress by a small margin of just 6,900.
No doubt, Jaitley offers Amritsar a very strong representation in New Delhi, Singh is also seen as an aggressive leader known to take hard decisions.
Jaitley has offered some ambitious plans such as opening the border trade with Pakistan, developing Amritsar as a tourism hub and improving its infrastructure.
As Singh shed his reluctance and got into the fighting mode, the ‘safe seat’ the Badals offered to Jaitley will in all likelihood see a hot contest.
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