One of the most respected politicians in Punjab’s political landscape, Preneet Kaur, the Maharani of the erstwhile princely state of Patiala from which this Lok Sabha seat derives its name, is locked in a unique electoral battle — she faces a challenge from her protégé, Deepinder Singh Dhillon, who joined the Shiromani Akali Dal after being denied ticket by the Congress in the 2012 Assembly elections, which he contested as an independent.
While Ms. Kaur, who became Union Minister of State for External Affairs in UPA-II, has won the seat three times in row since 1999, her husband Captain Amarinder Singh, the former Chief Minister, and his mother Mohinder Kaur, now fondly referred to as the Rajmata, represented Patiala in 1980 and 1967 respectively. In the 14 general elections here since 1957, the Congress won it nine times while the Akali candidates, including their stalwart Gurcharan Singh Tohra, were successful four times. In 1989, when Punjab was ravaged by terrorist violence, secessionist leader Atinderpal Singh won from jail.
The present contest has become more interesting after Capt. Singh was fielded from Amritsar to take on the BJP’s Arun Jaitley, a move that revived and unified the Congress. Factionalism in the Congress during the 2012 Assembly polls had resulted in Akali Dal winning four of the nine seats that form Patiala Lok Sabha constituency.
In her campaign to reach Parliament for the fourth time, Ms. Kaur speaks of development during her husband’s tenure as Chief Minister. He brought in projects that would have ensured investment of one lakh crore but the Akali government stalled the process, she says. “Their projects do not proceed beyond the foundation stone ceremony. The procurement of wheat has not started as the government is faced with a credit freeze,” she says, alleging growing unemployment and drug addiction among the youth ever since the Akali Dal-BJP alliance came to power.
The AAP candidate, Dharamvira Gandhi, is a cardiologist and social activist. He was arrested in 1975 when, as a student at the Government Medical College in Amritsar, he protested against the Emergency. Though he is confident of a causing a historic upset, Mr. Gandhi is unhappy that party chief, Arvind Kejriwal skipped his constituency during his road shows.
Akali Dal’s Mr. Dhillon has a sound presence in the Rajpura-Banur-Dera Bassi belt, where he managed the affairs of the constituency for “Maharani Sahib” till 2012.
Also in the fray is Kamaldeep Kaur, sister of Balwant Singh Rajoana, who is on death row in the Beant Singh assassination case and whose scheduled execution led to major protests. While she is expected to take away some “Panthic votes,” CPI’s Nirmal Singh Dhaliwal and BSP’s Ram Singh Dhiman could prove spoilers for the Congress campaign.
In all, there are 20 candidates in the fray in the constituency which has 15.7 lakh voters. Ajaypal Singh, a banker, says that while the Maharani and her family were inaccessible, after the Akali Dal-BJP government assumed charge the posh colony where he resides has broken roads and erratic supply of water, which is often not potable. “If as voters we do not respond to the need of the hour, we shall not have the right to crib later,” he says.