Constituency watch: Punjab

 The battle for Amritsar between two political stalwarts is one of the most keenly fought in this election.

As the contest gains steam, it is becoming clear that both Arun Jaitley of the BJP and Captain Amarinder Singh of the Congress are desperately trying to steer the poll rhetoric away from the performance of their respective governments at the State and the Centre.

For Mr. Jaitley, a lawyer by profession and a prominent BJP leader at the national level, this is an election “to make Narendra Modi the Prime Minister and about what a strong Central government can do for the people.”

He is careful to avoid any mention of the performance of the Akali Dal–BJP government in Punjab because after seven years in power there is disillusionment and anger against the alliance.

Capt. Singh ,who began his campaign with a series of attacks on the BJP and Mr. Jaitley, is for the same reason focussing on the “misrule of the Akali–BJP government in Punjab” and local issues of the constituency.  He has, so far, not said a word about the UPA’s 10-year rule at the Centre.

On Friday, Mr. Jaitley’s main pitch at his daily interaction with the media was that apart from petty attacks on non-issues “we have still not heard from Capt. Singh about his vision for the country, what his stand is on national security, the economy, corruption or inflation. He has even not outlined his vision for the larger development of Amritsar and is instead getting into ‘tu tu, main main’ which is not important.” 

Addressing a crowd of supporters in the town in fluent Punjabi, he tells them that a BJP government is most likely to come to power and since the party is an ally of the ruling Akali Dal, they will be doing the State a big service by voting for the BJP.

“Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal will get all your work done at the Centre, once a Modi government is installed,” he promises, adding that in the past 10 years the UPA government has weakened India.

On the other hand, while addressing a crowd after filing his nomination papers on Friday, Capt. Singh demands that property tax imposed by the Badal government be withdrawn as it has made people tenants in their own houses. Concentrating his attention entirely on the State government, he points at the poor financial condition of the State, where salaries are paid three months behind schedule. “The Badal government does not have money to run the State and for three consecutive years has not even presented a regular budget.”

Though Mr. Jaitley’s mother is from Amritsar, he is targeted for being an outsider because this is the first time he is contesting a Lok Sabha election.

“I am now a full-time politician; am scouting around for a house in Amritsar; and am here to stay,” he tells The Hindu.

Taking a dig at Capt. Singh’s propensity to stay away from the public eye after elections, he says, “At least I will not be hidden behind durbar gates and no can accuse me of being inaccessible.”

Mr. Jaitley was in Amritsar as soon as the party announced his candidature and had a good start to his campaign with senior Akali leaders, including the Chief Minister, lending him a helping hand.

Capt. Singh, however, took eight days to visit Amritsar after his surprise candidature, setting tongues wagging about his reluctance to contest. The Congress has played it smart by fielding its tallest leader in Punjab against the suave Mr. Jaitley. Even staunch BJP supporters concede that with the entry of Capt. Singh, what could have been a cakewalk for Mr. Jaitley just got tougher.