As a first-time MP, he had a mercurial rise in Delhi's corridors of power. But the graph of high-flying union minister and Congress national spokesman Manish Tewari is down five years after Ludhiana elected him with an impressive margin of over 1.13 lakh votes in 2009.
One gets a glimpse of Tewari's many problems as his VIP convoy reaches Jagraon on a Sunday morning in February. Just a few dozen turn up at the workers' meet, two rival factions are not extended the invites and block presidents, both rural and urban, are missing. Workers air grievances about his not being accessible and failing to support them against "political vendetta" unleashed by the ruling regime. Referring to his "pressing engagements" in New Delhi, the MP is quick to tender an apology.
Clout in Delhi
But his supporters -- he still has many-- feel it is precisely the MP's clout in Delhi that makes him the right man to represent Ludhiana. "He took industry delegations to meet the PM and got excise duty on readymade garments rolled back. The industry will be greatly benefited by the upcoming textile park and skill development centre. In fact, the state government has let down the business community by imposing high value-added tax, advance tax, property tax and problems in VAT refunds. The best report card on his performance is that the Shiromani Akali Dal has still not been able to find a candidate to match his popularity," says Vinod Thapar, chairman Knitwear Club, the apex body of knitwear units.
But the SAD terms Tewari an utter failure as an MP. "He has good English and can be on any channel he likes. But what has he done for Ludhiana in the past 10 long years when his party was in power at the Centre? He has failed to get any package for its industry, even the much-needed railway overbridges are lying incomplete. Worse, he misled people of his constituency. The credit for grounding Sahnewal airport after deputy CM Sukhbir Badal made it functional goes to him. He helped colonisers reap a windfall by announcing an international airport at Ladowal. Even the one proposed at Halwara has failed to come up. He is a non-resident MP, a migratory bird who will return to his nest. In fact, he knows his fate and if not accommodated from the Chandigarh seat, may even try for Karnal," says SAD spokesman and adviser to CM Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal. The Akalis also speak of his unkept poll promises such as getting Rs 10,000-crore investment and creating thousands of jobs. What use is his clout in Delhi when Congress is on its way out, they say.
Divided Congress, low worker morale
While Tewari's tenure has not been without accomplishments, comparisons are inadvertently drawn by leaders, workers and voters with the "humble, accessible" Tewari who made Ludhiana his second home after tasting defeat in 2004. In 2009, he rode high on the good report card of UPA-1 under a Sikh Prime Minister, his oratory and astute handling of various Ludhiana Congress factions.
This time round, however, Tewari may have more problems to contend with within his own party, partly of his own making. He lobbied hard for assembly tickets to his loyalists, those he chose lost and those he didn't won, thereby fuelling intense factionalism. Former DCC president Jagmohan Sharma describes the condition of Congress in Ludhiana as dismal. "The party is divided and morale of workers down. We will have to bear the consequences of this in the coming elections," he says.
Though some detractors credit him for getting projects, they fault his ability to see them through. They claim the Buddha Nullah continues to pollute and get polluted and the passport office is struggling with teething problems. They also credit new Shatabdi train and textile park to "collective effort" of other Punjab Congress MPs.
No end to civic woes
A predominantly urban constituency, the six assembly segments in Ludhiana city are still plagued by civic issues. Amid pockets of affluence, exist areas with poor sanitation and lack of clean drinking water. Its infrastructure is crumbling under the rising numbers. Dewan blames "vindictive discrimination" by the state government for all that ails the city. "The municipal corporation has gone bankrupt as funds are being diverted towards Bathinda. Where is Sukhbir's promise of metro rail and eight-laning of the Ludhiana-Ferozepur road? There has been complete lack of governance," he says. With nearly 11.25 lakh of its 15.29 lakh voters below the age of 50 years, the Akalis too would have to project a young face. Grewal says it would be premature to declare a candidate but the Tewari camp sees it as their inability to find one to match his stature and performance.