Absence of sitting BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu from campaign a factor
A small army of RSS workers have made this border town of Punjab their temporary home in the last few days. Morning walkers encounter them as they fan out into the city’s mohallas and lanes at daybreak to campaign for Arun Jaitley, the star BJP candidate pitted against former Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh of the Congress.
It is not only the RSS, but big businessmen from Gujarat — who fly in and out discreetly to work on the business lobbies here — and droves of Jaitley supporters and friends are all campaigning furiously for him. And not without reason. When the ruling Akali Dal–BJP in Punjab persuaded the BJP brass to field Mr. Jaitley from Amritsar, it was done with the assurance that the seat would be easy pickings. Enter Capt. Singh, and the going suddenly went uphill.
As Capt. Singh said when asked how he is coping with a ‘strong opponent’ like Mr. Jaitley. “Who is this strong opponent? If he was Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, then I was the Chief Minister of this State, so what?”
Capt. Singh fires a daily volley of strategically aimed ammo at the Akali-BJP combine on a range of issues from misrule and highhandedness of the State government, to unemployment, drugs and personal attacks on Mr. Jaitley as also the ruling Prakash Singh Badal family. Mr. Jaitley, fighting his first Lok Sabha election, was taken aback by the stridency of the attacks. “I am disappointed by the level of political discourse that Capt Singh is indulging in,” he said in the first week of his campaigning. He has bought a Rs.1 crore house in a tony residential area of the city to overcome the ‘outsider’ tag.
Mr. Jaitley faces two unexpected hurdles in this high stakes election. He encounters strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the SAD-BJP in virtually every Assembly segment of this constituency.
On Friday, when Narendra Modi addressed a rally in his support at Amritsar, it was widely seen as a an attempt wash over this anger and replace it with the prospect of Punjab getting goodies from the Centre if the NDA came to power. The other is the glaring absence of Navjot Singh Sidhu, his one-time protégé and sitting BJP MP.
Said Hitesh Uberoy, a businessman, “When Mr. Jaitley came to our locality, people asked him why the BJP chose to ignore Mr. Sidhu and field him instead. The latter spent Rs.2 crore from his pocket for Amritsar.”
“It would have been nice had he come, but I understand his sentiments,” Mr. Jaitley said.
Capt. Singh is carefully avoiding any talk about the UPA’s ten-year rule at the Centre. The scion of the Patiala royal house, who has an elite personal style, has shed some of his royal ways and is reaching out to the ordinary people . His USP: “I know the State better than Jaitley does.” If Capt. Singh wins, he will put the ruling SAD on the backfoot.
Sukhbir Badal, Deputy Chief Minister, is personally overseeing the poll strategy for Amritsar. The battle for Amritsar, which goes to the polls on April 30, is undoubtedly close and hard.