Saturday, Dec 10, 2022

Punjab Polls: Amarinder On Campaign Trail, His Prestige At Stake

Punjab Polls: Amarinder On Campaign Trail, His Prestige At Stake

Singh, who represented Patiala (Urban) seat in 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017 as a Congress candidate, is seeking re-election from the segment as PLC nominee.

Former Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh. PTI

In front of the lush lawns of new Moti Bagh palace, the private residence of the scion of erstwhile Patiala royal family Captain Amarinder Singh, vehicles line up as the former chief minister prepares to hit the campaign trail.

Inside, Punjab Lok Congress' supporters have a quick word with him before the PLC chief sets out to address back-to-back poll meetings in Patiala's neighbouring constituencies. Potraits of Baba Ala Singh, the city's founder and Amarinder Singh's ancestors are put up on the palace walls.

In his over 50 year-long political journey, the veteran leader's prestige may never have been at stake more than what is now. After Singh's unceremonious exit as chief minister in September last year following a bitter tussle with Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, he floated PLC, which is jointly contesting the February 20 polls with BJP and SAD (Sanyukt).     

In 2017, Singh won from Patiala by a huge margin of over 52,000 votes. However, this time even though Singh may not be facing any heavy weight rivals from here, the challenge he faces is not only to ensure that PLC does well, but being a prominent leader, he also has to ensure that the alliance does well in the polls.

Many still address Singh as "Maharaja Sahab". His father Yadavindra Singh was the last ruler of Patiala. Singh's wife Preneet Kaur is Congress MP from Patiala. Singh has also remained a two-time MP and had humbled BJP veteran late Arun Jaitley in 2014 Lok Sabha polls from Amritsar.

On a bright and sunny Thursday afternoon, Singh leaves the new Moti Bagh palace to address the first poll meeting of the day at nearby Sanaur, where he seeks votes for PLC candidate Bikramjit Singh Chahal, son of his close aide and advisor BIS Chahal. Among the meetings, he also addresses one at Rajpura.

Singh stresses why Punjab needs a "double engine" government, pointing out that state needs Centre's support for state's economic revival, which he says PLC-BJP-SAD (Sanyukt) alliance will help achieve. Singh points to the financial constraints that the state faces, which will remain a far cry under "false promises" of parties like Congress, AAP and SAD, "who are not willing to work in coordination with the Centre".  

"If anyone thinks that they can run the government here without Centre's help that is not possible," Singh asserts. Singh said when he decided to float his party after quitting Congress and told Union Home Minister Amit Shah that he wants to contest in alliance with them, the latter told him to speak to the prime minister, who later rang him up, saying he was very happy at his decision and assured that together they will transform Punjab for the better.

"I can guarantee you that the Modi government will repeat in 2024... and if we have a double engine government, Punjab can progress fast, " Singh tells the Sanaur gathering underscoring why voting for the alliance in Punjab was needed. "The alliance will form the government," Singh said. 

He exuded confidence later interacting with the media following his campaign trail, and dismissed projections that AAP will perform better this time, saying pollsters gave them 100 seats even last time but they ended up winning just 20. Back in Patiala city, some voters feel that Patiala has been Amarinder's bastion and over the years and he has done a lot for his constituency, while some others claim that people this time are looking for a change.

"Capt sahab has done a lot for his constituency, people will vote him back," said Swarn Singh, a Patiala resident. However, Bhagwant Singh, an iron smith, who has a shop on Behra road here, has a different opinion. "This time people want to give a chance to the AAP. Everyone wants the condition of government schools to improve so that our children get quality education at minimum cost and affordable treatment in hospitals."

"Traditional parties have ruled for 70 years now, but they have not done anything. Here you can see the condition of internal roads in Patiala?, they are in bad shape," he says. In his poll meetings, Amarinder Singh takes on the Congress, AAP and SAD on a host of issues and also takes on Charanjit Singh Channi after ED arrested his nephew, saying Congress declared him chief ministerial candidate even after his kin was caught "with sand mafia earnings".

The former chief minister thanked the people of Patiala for the love and respect they have always given him. Outside the Dak Ghar or post office here, 50-year-old tea seller Satender from Azamgarh, UP, who is settled in Patiala since 1990, is serving hot tea to his customers that range from office and bank employees to autowalas and some of them are engaged in an intense discussion.

The Congress has fielded former Patiala mayor Vishnu Sharma, Shiromani Akali has nominated Harpal Juneja and AAP's candidate is Ajit Pal Singh Kohli from Patiala seat. Patiala Urban seat, an erstwhile princely state, is situated in Punjab's Malwa region, which accounts for maximum 69 seats in the 117-member Assembly. The constituency has several heritage, buildings including Qila Mubarak, Sheesh Mahal, Moti Bagh Palace, among others.

With inputs from PTI.