Amritsar’s Mahabharat: `reluctant contestant’ vs `outsider’

Amritsar, March 30: Amritsar is witnessing a political “Mahabharat” as two stalwarts fight it out for this Lok Sabha seat.

The unique thing about the election in Amritsar this time is that the two main contestants, Arun Jaitley of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh of the Congress, do not belong to the city.

The Sikh holy city of Amritsar is known as a pilgrimage centre for millions of devout who come here every year.

The political battle here, which unfolds April 30, is being seen as one between the “outsider” and the “reluctant contestant”.

The “outsider” here is Jaitley, who belongs to New Delhi and is contesting for the first time. The “reluctant contestant” is Amarinder Singh, who was unwilling to contest the Lok Sabha polls but was pushed into it by the Congress high command. He belongs to Patiala.

Jaitley, who, according to Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal, could be the next deputy prime minister, has the full backing of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the election. In fact, Jaitley was urged to contest from here even as the BJP unceremoniously dumped its sitting MP, cricketer-turned-politician, Navjot Singh Sidhu.

“Jaitley was given an impression by top leaders of the Akali Dal and the BJP that Amritsar is a safe seat. Punjab Minister Bikram Singh Majithia and Anil Joshi, both of whom did not get along with Sidhu, proposed and brought in Jaitley to oust Sidhu. Amarinder’s arrival here has completely changed the equation. The result has become uncertain, whatever claims both sides might make,” a senior Punjab BJP leader told IANS here.

Amarinder is no pushover for the Akali Dal-BJP combine.

The `Maharaja’ from the erstwhile royal family of Patiala arrived here formally Friday to a big pomp and show through his arrival road show. Amarinder’s arrival on the scene has even unified warring Congress leaders. All of them are solidly getting behind him.

“Jaitley is an outsider here and knows nothing about the constituency. He is trying to create his roots here. He is just another candidate. He is no challenge,” Amarinder, who has been aggressive in his comments about Jaitley and the Akali Dal-BJP combine, told IANS.

The former chief minister was earlier “reluctant” to contest the Lok Sabha polls. He is a sitting legislator of the Congress from Patiala.

“I did not say no to contesting. I only said that my experience could be utilised in campaigning across Punjab. The party has fielded me and I will give a tough fight,” Amarinder said.

After Amarinder’s name was announced by the Congress for this seat and the contest turned into a tough one, Jaitley said: “The Congress party has finally announced its candidate for the Amritsar parliamentary seat against me. They have named a reluctant Capt. Amarinder Singh as their candidate. My best wishes to him.”

That seemed to be the end of pleasantries between both leaders as Jaitley had to counter the political barbs directed at him by Amarinder. Both leaders have made it clear to each other that they are not going to take “indecent” comments lying down.

As the Amritsar poll fever catches on, the “missing” Sidhu is certainly out of sight for the political leaders and even the people who elected him thrice in 2004, 2007 (by-election) and 2009.

As per his legislator wife, Sidhu will not even campaign for Jaitley on the Amritsar seat.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

IANS