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A ‘Captain’ for Congress and country

A second front: Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh filing his papers from the Lambi constituency on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: AKHILESH KUMAR;AKHILESH KUMAR -

Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh is avowedly fighting the last election of his career. His first was in 1980. This is, however, his most combative poll yet. And not just because, as he claims, “Jats in particular love a good fight”, but because it would be an important one for the future of the Congress, as it has failed to grasp victory since 2014.

At his ancestral palace Motibagh in Patiala, Mr. Singh, popularly called “Captain” (he was in a cavalry regiment of the Army), prepares for his trip to Bhatinda to file papers for the Lambi constituency, where Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is contesting.

“I am fighting elections from Patiala and Lambi, the latter because I want to give a message, that if you [Mr. Badal] mess up your mandate, let in drug smugglers and sand mafia people into the State, then this is how it has to be fought. The second reason is, of course, that this will have an effect on a few seats around Bhatinda, in the Malwa region,” he said.

The driving force

The Congress in Punjab, unlike its usually somnolent reaction to political activity unconnected with polls, has been in campaign mode since early last year. Mr. Singh has been its driving force. What add to the verve of this campaign is this is his last election (he will turn 75 in March) is mixed and the challenge thrown by the Aam Aadmi Party.

Mr. Singh says with some heat: “The AAP is a fascist party. It has swung from extreme Left to extreme Right in Punjab.”

He also flags the issue of Punjabiyat now dominating the narrative in these polls. “In 2014, Arvind Kejriwal’s impact was not known; now his own party has collapsed. Three of his MPs have left him, and Daljeet Singh, who fought against me in Amritsar, has just joined the Congress. The AAP is in the hands of outsiders. For example, here in Punjab, his organisation is in the hands of two people, Durgesh Pathak and Sanjay Singh. He brought 52 people from outside the State to man the 22 districts in the State. Now he is getting 50,000 people to man the polling booths. We always knew that he wanted to be the chief ministerial candidate for Punjab and [Delhi Deputy Chief Minister] Manish Sisodia’s statement just confirmed it,” he adds.

Mr. Singh has plans for a loan waiver for farmers if elected to power, and counts the agrarian crisis, along with the prevalence of narcotic drugs as the big issues in these polls. After November 8, he has added demonetisation to the mix as well.

“Punjabis anyway have a short fuse. If the lack of currency and lines at banks persist that too in this weather, there could be tempers flaring. I have a friend who employs 38,000 people, and he had to let go of 18,000 daily wagers just because of the cash crunch. Imagine the figures if one aggregates,” he says.

The other impact, he says, is that no one has money to fight polls.

“The Akalis have enough, it’s easy for them to transfer money through the Gurudwaras saying chadhawa aagaya (offerings by devotees). But the AAP will face problems and we certainly are facing problems,” says Mr. Singh with a chuckle.

His son Raninder Singh will be stationed in Lambi to oversee his campaign there, while his wife, former Union Minister Praneet Kaur, will hold the fort in Patiala.

Mr. Singh himself will be crisscrossing the State as the main campaigner for the Congress. He narrowly missed being elected in the 2012 polls (the vote difference between the Congress and the victorious Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine was just 1.5%). With a tighter fight this time, the titular “Maharaja” of Patiala is pulling out all the stops.

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Printable version | Apr 23, 2021 9:16:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/A-%E2%80%98Captain%E2%80%99-for-Congress-and-country/article17056567.ece

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