In the epic clash for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, BJP heavyweight Arun Jaitley is relying on heavy artillery to take on Capt Amarinder Singh of the Congress. Of all its seats, the BJP has lined up the maximum number of celebrities in Amritsar, including Bollywood actors, cricketers and TV artistes. The show-stopper will be BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who is to address four back-to-back rallies in Punjab on April 25, Amritsar being the last stop.
Jaitley has openly admitted to waiting for the Modi magic to turn the tide in his favour, citing him as the biggest pull for voters in these elections.
The BJP strategy to requisition forces from outside Punjab is part of its plan to counter strong undercurrents of anti-incumbency against the ruling SAD-BJP alliance in the state, as Amritsar is seen as the epicentre of such sentiments.
Bollywood stars who are also BJP candidates are heading to Amritsar after wrapping up their own campaign. Kirron Kher (Chandigarh) and Shatrughan Sinha (Patna Sahib) have rallied for Jaitley, while Hema Malini will be in Amritsar after her seat, Mathura, goes to the polls on April 24.
Most other stars in BJP’s line-up for Amritsar, such as Vivek Oberoi, Sunil Shetty, Divya Dutta and comedian Bharti Singh, have already done so while some such as Sunny Deol and Sonakshi Sinha are expected later this week.
In sharp contrast, Amarinder’s team is not keen on getting any Bollywood stars, not even the party’s own star campaigners. His campaign managers are yet to invite even the party’s top brass — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi or vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
While Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Partap Singh Bajwa has written to the PM, Sonia and Rahul to campaign in Punjab, the tours of the PM and Rahul are yet to be confirmed.
Citing Amarinder’s tight schedule, his team is learnt to have told the All India Congress Committee that the erstwhile Patiala royal is hard-pressed for time to finish his campaign in rural areas, where campaigning has taken a backseat in view of the ongoing wheat harvesting season.
“Organising the rally of a VVIP requires too much time and effort. We have few days left to wrap up the campaign and no invite has yet been sent to any top leader. Our candidate has enough charisma of his own, unlike Jaitley, who even has the entire state government on his side,” one of Amarinder’s team managers said.
Congress general secretary Shakeel Ahmad admitted that there were suggestions that the PM, Sonia and Rahul should skip high-voltage constituencies due to paucity of time left with the Congress stalwarts.
“It is for the PMO to decide which constituencies the PM will visit. But the leaders may give VIP constituencies such as Amritsar, Anandpur Sahib and Gurdaspur the miss.
So far, only dates of party president Sonia Gandhi have been finalised — she will address rallies in Sangrur and Hoshiarpur on April 26. The programmes of the PM and Rahul will be finalised by late Monday evening or Tuesday,” Ahmad said.
Bajwa had earlier said that Manmohan Singh would be campaigning in seats with high rural Sikh voters, Sonia for senior candidates and Rahul for youth candidates. With nearly 64% Sikh voters, the PM had held his main rally during the 2012 assembly polls in Punjab at Amritsar.