Sitting Congress MLA from Barnala Kewal Singh Dhillon and his Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) rival Malkiat Singh Keetu are apparently like chalk and cheese.
While the flamboyant Dhillon is the richest Congress candidate in the fray across Punjab (with declared assets of Rs. 78 crore), Keetu prides himself on his simple living. The latter, a state-level truck union leader, can be spotted campaigning in chappals.
Barnala was an Akali bastion before Dhillon won the seat for the Congress in 2007, beating Keetu by less than 2,000 votes.
Dhillon is not only facing a challenge from two-time MLA Keetu but also from some local Congress leaders. These leaders had staged a dharna against Dhillon at the party office in New Delhi recently, prior to ticket allotment. However, they chose not to raise an objection after Dhillon got the ticket.
These leaders have been alleging that Dhillon, an industrialist, remained busy in Chandigarh during the past five years and didn’t help them when they were being targeted by local SAD leaders.
Dhillon’s poll plank is the social work he has been doing ever since he had not even entered politics.
Targeting Keetu, he says, “When it comes to running shady businesses in the region, Keetu doesn’t need any introduction. He has nothing to offer on the development front.”
Keetu alleges that Dhillon was non-committal to the public and remained absent from Barnala during the past five years.
“In my previous stints as MLA, people have seen my vision of development. I ask Dhillon what he has brought to the region as an MLA,” questions Keetu, who has declared assets worth more than Rs. 1 crore. He is also listing his achievement of distributing 20-kg atta each per month among poor families in villages of the constituency for the past more than a year.
Accompanied by gunmen, Dhillon moves in a Mercedes, while Keetu prefers a Mahindra Scorpio. Dhillon’s wife and two boys are campaigning for him, while Keetu is being assisted by his adopted son.