Bathinda: Two members of the Badal clan, one a sitting MP and other an estranged family member are locked in a high-pitched battle of ballots for the Bathinda seat, a strong hold of the ruling Akalis, where entry of a namesake candidate is turning the contest complex.
Sitting MP of Akali Dal Harsimrat Kaur and her brother-in-law Manpreet Singh Badal – are facing each other in the Malwa heartland of the state considered to be a bastion of the ruling Akalis.
Manpreet, a former finance minister, founder president of Peoples Party of Punjab (PPP) is, however, a candidate of the Congress.
He is slugging it out against his cousin and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal’s wife in her stronghold on a Congress ticket with backing from CPI and SAD (Barnala).
However, among his rivals is another Manpreet Singh Badal who is in the fray as an independent with ‘Kite’ as his election symbol, which previously was with the PPP.
PPP Supremo Manpreet says that the 34-year-old namesake candidate has been propped up to confuse voters.
While the independent Manpreet is understood to have tacit support from Akalis, the estranged member from Badal clan boasts that he is the only one, who is as popular as Manpreet Singh Badal.
The independent candidate, who also hails from Badal village, says that “I have all the right to contest elections, so what if my name is the same as the other candidate.”
The 2014 polls will be the third general elections when the Congress and the CPI are contesting as partners from Bathinda seat which was a reserved constituency till 2004.
Earlier, the Congress and CPI had joined hands in 1971 and 1999 and emerged winners. With the Congress, PPP and CPI putting up a united fight this time, the constituency is set to witness a bipolar contest between the Congress and the SAD.
“The contest is against the system headed by the Punjab CM and Deputy CM and represented in Bathinda by the CM’s daughter-in-law,” opines Manpreet adding that “when you fight individuals, the contest is easy, but once you take on the system, the challenge becomes more interesting.”
However, Manpreet also does not see it to be a mere family fight in a political arena. “It is a political fight against corruption, nepotism, drug mafia, property and tax mafia,” he said.
The contest is also a prestige fight for Manpreet as he and his PPP had badly lost the 2012 assembly polls. Manpreet too lost his traditional Gidderbaha seat. Harsimrat, who canvasses for at least 14 to 15 hours a day, sees no competition before her.
“My rival stabbed his parent party (SAD) and the Badal family,” she said.
“I am contesting with a person who could not even win his own seat in the Assembly polls and a man who stabbed his parent party to form PPP and then merge with the Congress,” Harsimrat, seeking another term, said.
She also does not see it as a mere family fight in a political arena.
“My fight is with a self-centred individual full of greed for the CM’s chair…yet another defeat will be the death of his political career,” she claimed.
Harsimrat enjoys lot of political clout. Even her staunch critics credit the firebrand MP for creating a niche in national politics by championing the cause of girl child through the Nanhi Chhaan campaign and her no-holds-barred attacks on the Congress in Parliament.
Harsimrat, who claims to have spent Rs 15 crore in each of the nine Vidhan Sabha constituencies in her area in the past five years, appeals to the voters to vote for a stable government and to choose Narendra Modi as the next PM.
She promises to build concrete irrigation drains, bring more industry and impart vocational skills at the school level so that the youth can be self employed. Cancer is a big problem in the area, she has said.
But for Manpreet it is a different story and he counters his Akali rival saying, “I have delivered both as a four-time MLA and former finance minister rather than a candidate who resides in Delhi and has failed miserably.”
If voted, Manpreet claimed, he will be able to articulate issues of Bathinda and Punjab better than anyone else at the national level.
He promises to clean the corrupt system and develop Punjab. At the same time he urges voters not to sell their votes to “drug mafia”.
Among his poll promises, he said he wants to develop the segment as a three-state hub connecting Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab. It will a centre-point for trade, industry, banking and agriculture.