Punjabis love potboilers and Congress seems to have whetted their appetite by stirring up a few for Mandate 2014. The party seemed unsure of which candidates to field after its sitting MPs Manish Tewari and state chief Partap Bajwa were dithering on contesting, but changed the state’s pollscape by lining up all its top guns. The trigger was BJP’s poll script of replacing cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Sidhu with Arun Jaitley from Amritsar.
Jaitley, leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha, is fighting his debut election. The Congress decided to go for the kill soon after BJP announced his candidature. It brought a reluctant Amarinder Singh, former chief minister, into the fray to take on Jaitley while Bajwa was asked to defend his own fort Gurdaspur against actor Vinod Khanna. Leader of opposition Sunil Jakhar was pitched to reclaim Ferozepur while former union minister Ambika Soni was para-dropped in Anandpur Sahib.
In Bathinda, Congress sealed a deal with Manpreet Badal, the estranged nephew of Akali Dal patriarch and CM Parkash Singh Badal to take on the latter’s daughter-in-law Harsimrat Badal. The strategy seemed to have clicked as it brought the Congress back into the fighting mode and confined the Akalis to their two seats of prestige.
Amritsar has since witnessed a war of words between Amarinder and Jaitley on the ground as well as the social media. Amarinder led the offensive by calling Jaitley an outsider; the latter replied in cash, not kind — by buying a mansion worth over Rs. 1 crore in the city. The two subsequently used superlatives like “third-rate liar”, “Humpty Dumpty” and “emperor without clothes”.
All this while, BJP ally Akali Dal’s president Sukhbir Badal pulled a fast one on cousin Manpreet by fielding a namesake armed with the ‘kite’ symbol that was allotted to Manpreet’s People’s Party of Punjab in the 2012 state polls. The namesake and his kite vanished soon after. If that were not enough, Punjab’s controversial DGP Sumedh Saini went on leave after the EC removed some senior officers.
Interestingly, Congress stalwarts did not seek the services of the party’s top three campaigners – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. In contrast, the SAD-BJP has been betting big on BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to sail through anti-incumbency on the day of polling (Wednesday).
The shocker for Punjab, though, came from Amarinder. In a TV interview, he gave a ‘clean chit’ to Congress leader Jagdish Tytler in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.