Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, making his poll debut from Amritsar, is likely to be pitted against Congress heavyweight but a reluctant contestant in former Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh.
Summoned to Delhi on Wednesday by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, Singh had expressed inability to contest. Singh said he was needed in Patiala where his wife and union minister Preneet Kaur was facing “strong anti-incumbency” as a three-time MP and a hostile state government.
A snub from Gandhi, however, forced Singh to change stance.
According to party sources, the Congress chief refused to see Singh who had sought an appointment Thursday morning.
But a defiant Singh made his reluctance known. “I would not be able to do justice with people of Amritsar,” he said in a statement later in the day. His presence was required across the state and contesting from Amritsar would tie him down to a single constituency. “If elected an MP, I will not be able to do justice with people there as compared to a local candidate.”
The Congress is battling factionalism in Punjab which has 13 Lok Sabha seats. His possible candidature from Amritsar is being seen by the Amarinder Camp as an attempt by state Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa to corner the former CM into a contest he, too, will have to fight — from Gurdaspur.
There have been reports that senior party leaders are unwilling to contest with several pre-poll surveys pointing to Congress’ worst-ever Lok Sabha tally.
By fielding Singh, the Congress is hoping to tie down the BJP and alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal to two seats — Amritsar and Bathinda, from where Manpreet Badal will take on Harsimrat Badal, the wife of deputy CM Sukhbir Badal. Sukhbir and Manpreet are cousins.