Punjab

Key contests

Print edition : May 24, 2019

Sunny Deol, the BJP candidate for Gurdaspur. Photo: NARINDER NANU/AFP

Sunil Jakhar, the Congress candidate for Gurdaspur. Photo: NARINDER NANU/AFP

Hardeep Singh Puri, the BJP candidate for Amritsar. Photo: NARINDER NANU/AFP

Preneet Kaur (right) the Congress candidate for Patiala. Photo: PTI

THE scorching summer heat and the absence of charismatic leaders have meant that campaigning in Punjab is low-key. No major rallies were organised until the end of April. The contestants are focussing on padayatras and other informal ways of contacting voters. The focus now is on micromanagement rather than on the panoramic view. The State is likely to get more eyeballs with electioneering likely to reach its final stage by the second week of May for the May 19 voting. Of the 13 Lok Sabha constituencies, five—Gurdaspur, Faridkot, Amritsar, Khadoor Sahib and Patiala—are likely to see close contests.

Gurdaspur

If there is one seat in Punjab where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can be said to have an edge, it is Gurdaspur from where the Hindi film actor Sunny Deol is making his electoral debut. He seeks to reclaim the seat won by Vinod Khanna in 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2014. Deol’s father, the yesteryear actor Dharmendra, contested from Bikaner in 2004. But the going will not be easy for Deol as he is pitted against Sunil Jakhar of the Congress, who won the seat in the byelection held following Vinod Khanna’s death in April 2017.

While Jakhar seeks to ride the crest of the goodwill earned by the Amarinder Singh government, the Deol camp hopes caste arithmetic will work in his favour. Of the nine Assembly segments—Bhoa, Sujanpur, Dinanagar, Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Dera Baba Nanak, Fatehgarh Churian, Qadian and Batala—in the constituency, five have a majority population of Jat Sikhs. Deol is a Jat Sikh. The other segments, contiguous with Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, have a predominant Hindu population. Deol can hope to get support in these areas too, but Kavita Khanna, Vinod Khanna’s widow, has thrown her hat in the ring as an independent because her candidature was overruled by the BJP high command. She enjoys the faith of her husband’s supporters. Deol is said to be a reluctant entrant into politics. Only Jakhar’s gravitas can save the day for the Congress.

Faridkot

Faridkot has nine Assembly segments and nearly 13 lakh voters.

The popular folk singer Mohammed Sadique is contesting on the Congress ticket. Interestingly, he lost the Assembly elections from Jaitu reserved constituency in 2017, but that has not shaken the party’s faith in him. The percentage of Muslims is minimal in Fairdkot but larger in Sangrur. Muslims are present to a lesser extent in Gurdaspur.

According to a party insider, Sadique was defeated in the Assembly election because of a change of segments. “For the past 70 years, he has been serving Punjabi literature and culture. Sunny Deol is not as popular in Punjab as Sadique. Sadique has an iconic status in rural Punjab. He is not looked at as a Muslim but as an artist who has served the cause of Punjabi culture,” says a Congress leader.

Singing is a key component of Sadique’s election campaign. “I am a singer. I will continue to sing. But in my election campaign, other singers will sing,” he promises. Indeed, on the campaign trail in Moga, his long-time comrade-in-arms, Ranjit Kaur, was asked by the audiences to sing just once. She obliged them. The campaign did not begin on a positive note for Gulzar Singh Ranike of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), with many villagers expressing disappointment with the SAD-BJP alliance’s performance. Prof. Sadhu Singh, who won the seat for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in 2014, is seeking re-election.

Amritsar

In 2014, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley lost to the Congress’ Amarinder Singh at the height of the Narendra Modi wave. This time, Union Minister Hardeep Puri is trying his luck from the constituency. A career diplomat-turned-politician, Puri faces a tough challenge from the Congress’ Gurjeet Singh Aujla, who defeated the BJP’s Rajinder Mohan Singh Chhina in the 2017 byelection. The nomination of Puri took some local BJP leaders by surprise as they thought Chhina, who is said to be close to Jaitley, would be given the party ticket. Chhina had even started campaigning before Puri’s name was finalised.

Khadoor Sahib

The Khadoor Sahib constituency was created in 2008. The SAD’s Ranjit Singh Brahmpura won this seat reserved for the Scheduled Castes in 2014.

This time Bibi Paramjit Kaur Khalra of the Punjab Ekta Party is seeking to enter the Lok Sabha. Her candidature has a poignant ring to it. She is the widow of Jaswant Singh Khalra, the noted human rights activist who fought for the rights of the families of those slain by the police. He had claimed that the State police had cremated over 2,000 unidentified bodies in Tarn Taran district alone over a decade. He fought the State until he was murdered in 1995. His widow hopes to arouse the kind of anger and hope that her husband once evoked. Bibi Paramjit Kaur had contested unsuccessfully from Tarn Taran earlier.

The SAD (Taksali), a group that broke away from the SAD, has withdrawn its candidate in her favour. However, things are far from easy for Bibi Paramjit Kaur: the Congress won all the nine Assembly segments of the Khadoor Sahib constituency in 2017. Also, Bibi Jagir Kaur of the SAD comes with a formidable recommendation; blessed with a Panthic background, she was the president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. Khadoor Sahib is a rural constituency and was considered an SAD stronghold until 2017.

Patiala

Preneet Kaur, the wife of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, faced a shock defeat in Patiala at the hands of Dr Dharamvira Gandhi of the AAP in the last election. She won the seat in 1999, 2004 and 2009. Her chances of exacting revenge are definitely bright as Dr Gandhi has since left the AAP and is contesting as a nominee of the Nawan Punjab Party, banking on the support of some of the erstwhile volunteers of the AAP. With the Congress in power in the State, Preneet got some big-ticket projects rolling. However, the popularity enjoyed by Surjit Singh Rakhra among the rural segments of the constituency can upset her winning chances. The decline of the AAP’s popularity in the State and the consolidation of the anti-SAD vote for the Congress may benefit Preneet.

 

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