The speculation over the Congress fielding former Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh from Amritsar has changed the political scene in the constituency. The possibility is giving the jitters to Akali and BJP leaders who were gloating over dumping three-time MP Navjot Singh Sidhu after closing ranks to convince senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley to fight his debut election. The news has also boosted the morale of local Congress leaders and workers who had given up even without putting up a fight.
Behind the Congress strategy to field Amarinder is a well-thought-out plan to cash in on Sikh votes against the BJP’s Hindu face in a constituency where 64% voters are Sikhs. While Sidhu’s ouster will give the party a handle to project the BJP as anti-Sikh, it also hopes to gain from the anti-incumbency against BJP and Sidhu.
Though Amarinder hails from Malwa and not the Majha belt comprising Amritsar, his aggressive style of taking the ruling Badals head on and recent posturing for Jat reservation can woo the constituency’s Jat Sikh voters, who dominate its rural areas, and also check the SAD and the Youth Akali Dal brigade of Majha chieftain Bikram Singh Majithia from running amok in the entire state by confining them to two seats (Amritsar and Bathinda).
The party is also hoping to gain from personal antiincumbency against the firebrand brother-in-law of deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal. The Congress will also exploit sitting MP Sidhu’s much-publicised face-off with the Badals, which cost him the ticket.
Also, unlike Jaitley, an outsider, Amarinder has been the CM and has held many road shows in the city. The challenge for the Congress was also to scout candidates from among the many claimants in the fiercelydivided Amritsar unit, making Amarinder a name that would be most acceptable for his clout.
Congress insiders admit that the names of many contenders were sent to the high command — OP Soni (Amritsar Central MLA), Sukhbinder Singh Sukh Sarkaria (Raja Sansi MLA), Ashwani Sekhri (Batala MLA) and Sukhjinder Raj Singh Lalli Majithia — none could match Jaitley’s clout and stature.
Amarinder’s presence in Amritsar will also impact the adjoining constituency of Gurdaspur, where Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief Partap Singh Bajwa is the candidate, besides Khadoor Sahib, where the party has fielded Harminder Singh Gill. It may, however, restrict his movement in other constituencies.
While the Congress had many reasons for asking Amarinder to finally join the poll fray, it was Bajwa who had mooted the idea months ago, pitching his arch-rival as the best bet from Amritsar or Bathinda. Amarinder escaped the latter. With the high command asking party stalwarts to throw their hat in the ring, Bajwa may have the last laugh.