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Punjab polls: After Arun Jaitley vs Amarinder Singh in 2014, Amritsar sees low-profile LS bypoll

In spite of low-profile bypoll, Amritsar is a high-stakes contest with the parties leaving no stoned unturned to ensure their victory.

By: PTI | Amritsar |
January 29, 2017 12:45:28 pm
Newly appointed Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh with Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Parliament on Friday. Anil Sharma Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh with Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. (File Photo)

After a high-profile battle between two stalwarts–BJP’s Arun Jaitley and Congress’ Amarinder Singh in 2014–the Amritsar Lok Sabha bypoll this year is seeing a low-profile but high-stakes contest with the parties leaving no stoned unturned to ensure their victory. The three-cornered fight between Congress, BJP-SAD combine and AAP has been overshadowed as the by-poll will be held simultaneously with the Assembly polls in the state on February 4. The by-poll has been necessitated after Amarinder resigned as an MP in protest against the Supreme Court verdict on the SYL Canal water sharing agreement.

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Of the over 14 lakh electorates registered in Amritsar LS seat, 60 per cent are Sikh voters, and the three parties have not ignored this fact. They have fielded candidates who belong to the Sikh community and hail from the holy city, which is famous, among other things, for the Golden temple, Attari-Wagah border, the Jallianwala Bagh and for its food. 66-year-old BJP’s Rajinder Mohan Singh Chhina, Congress’ Gurjit Singh Aujla (44) and AAP’s Upkar Singh Sandhu(63) are among those in the fray.

Chhina, who is considered close to Union minister Arun Jaitley, has formerly served BJP as its state unit’s vice president and is now its executive member. Chhina had unsuccessfully contested the 2007 Assembly polls from the Amritsar-West seat. Aujla, considered close to Amarinder, was appointed vice president of the Amritsar District Youth Congress in 1997 and has been District Congress Committee (Rural) president since 2013. AAP’s Sandhu (63), who was formerly with SAD, had a brief three-month stint with the Congress before he joined Arvind Kejriwal-led party earlier this month.

Sandhu had resigned from SAD earlier in protest against the sacrilege incidents in the state and alleged failure of the state government in nabbing the culprits. Starting from Gurmukh Singh Musafir and then R L Bhatia, Amritsar Lok Sabha had traditionally remained a Congress bastion until a young Najvot Singh Sidhu (now 53) as a BJP candidate trounced Congress veteran and six-time parliamentarian Bhatia in 2004 LS polls. The seat remained with Sidhu till 2014 when he made way for Jaitley to contest the Lok Sabha polls. Jaitley lost the seat to Amarinder. Cricketer-turned-politician Sidhu remained the BJP MP from Amritsar, winning the seat in 2004, 2007 by-poll and in 2009.

The Amritsar parliamentary constituency comprises nine assembly segments. Five (Amritsar-East, Amritsar-West, Amritsar-North, Amritsar-Central and Amritsar-South) are in the Amritsar city and surrounding areas, four (Ajnala, Majitha, Raja Sansi and Attari) are outside it. Of the nine, Raja Sansi, Amritsar-West, Amritsar-Central are with Congress. Amritsar-East’s BJP MLA Navjot Kaur Sidhu and South’s Inderbir Singh Bolaria of SAD have also switched over to Congress.

Majitha, Ajnala and Attari are represented by SAD and Amritsar-North by BJP. In his election meetings, Chhina promises to transform Amritsar and bring projects for various sections and also to take steps to further boost the tourism. “This city has been declared as a Smart City but work is yet to get started, which I will ensure gets started at priority. We want to make Amritsar a top city and a top tourist destination,” he said. He said the border areas need more work on education and health services and he would seek a special package. Chhina promises development of border areas through Central grants and compensation for farmers with land across the barbed-wire fence on international border.

“Once the SAD-BJP form the government for the third consecutive time in the state and you elect a BJP-SAD MP from here, it will further speed-up the works for public good,” Chhina said. In his campaigns, he also enlists development projects like Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Horticulture Institute and Smart City project. He claimed the beautification of Golden Temple by the SAD-BJP government has boosted the tourist influx. Congress’ Aujla has been raising the drug issue to hit out at the ruling Akalis, saying the menace is prevalent but the government has “failed” to acknowledge it, “leave alone taking any step to combat it”.

Sidhu’s step of recently joining the Congress has also bolstered the party’s campaign. He has been going all out to attack the ruling Badal family for “looting” Punjab, and BJP for “acting like a mute spectator” to the whole thing. AAP’s Sandhu says his party is the “only hope” for Punjab and could bring back its “golden days”. “We all have seen the regimes of Congress and SAD-BJP. AAP is not just a political party but a new hope for all of Punjab’s ills,” he said. Also dubbing Sidhu and Singh as “absentee MPs”, Chhina said they “ignored” the constituency and did not bring “even one notable” development project for the area.

“Sidhu remained three-time MP but did not visit the constituency for months together. Let him say what project he got during 10 years as MP. He was not available to his constituents but for most of the time he remained busy with other commitments. “Now, he is contesting the MLA election from Amritsar-East but he will lose to BJP candidate because he stands exposed for his opportunism. He just makes headlines in newspapers during poll time and then flies back to Mumbai which is his permanent base in a way now,” Chhina had told PTI on the sidelines of a public meeting here.

Chhina, who is also secretary of the powerful and historic Khalsa College Governing Council (KCGC), said Singh, “hardly attended Parliament and never raised voice on the issues facing people here”. Addressing poll meetings, Aujla of Congress says the development of the holy city as a tourist, industrial and business hub will be his main agenda. He promises to make holy city an education hub by opening more and more government schools and colleges, especially in the rural belt.

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