The Jalandhar Cantonment assembly segment, once represented by former chief minister Beant Singh, was earlier a Congress stronghold.
This time it is set to witness a direct contest between Congress nominee and former Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MLA Jagbir Singh Brar, 48, and hockey Olympian Pargat Singh, 46, a novice in electoral politics fielded by the ruling SAD to retain the seat.
Brar, who was the first ever SAD candidate to win the traditional Congress seat, is now trying hard to get back the seat for the Congress.
The SAD zeroed in on the hockey legend after Brar turned rebel to first join the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP).
Both candidates are former government officers — while Brar was a block development officer before entering politics, Pargat, who was director (sports),
Punjab, resigned a day after announcement of his candidature by the party.
Brar, once a confidant of former finance minister Manpreet Badal, became a SAD rebel and joined Manpreet’s PPP as senior vice-president, but later shifted loyalties to the Congress.
Beant Singh, the former Punjab chief minister who was assassinated in 1995, lent prestige t o the constituency. In 1997, the assembly segment was represented by Beant Singh’s son Tej Parkash Singh, and then by his daughter Gurkanwal Kaur, who won the seat in 2002.
Brar defeated Gurkanwal in 2007 by a margin of 16,984 votes to snatch the seat from the Congress.
After facing opposition within the Congress, Brar has reason to be relieved as most dissidents and ticket hopefuls, including former MLAs Gurkanwal Kaur and Kamaljit Singh Lalli and AICC member Tejinder Singh Bittu, have been wooed back by the party and all are campaigning for Brar.
However, former district chief of Congress (rural), Baba Rajinder Singh Johal's entry into the poll fray on a PPP ticket is a cause of worry for the Congress candidate as Brar himself had helped set up PPP's base in constituency.
Brar, however, dismisses such concerns, saying that PPP workers also shifted to the Congress with him.
SAD had dissidence trouble too, but senior SAD leader Paramjit Singh Raipur, chairman of local improvement trust Baljeet Singh Neelamahal and district chief of SAD Gurcharan Singh Channi who were eying the party ticket, were pacified by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.
Brar, in his political speeches, holds SAD responsible for the heavy debt on the state. “Canal irrigation, traffic regulation and illegal colonies in the outskirts of the city are the real issues to be tackled immediately,” Brar said, claiming that if SAD is voted to power, it would continue to divert development funds for rural areas raised from local mandis to the Badal strongholds in Bathinda.
Pargat emphasises the “good governance” of the SAD-led government. “Instead of indulging in negative politics, I believe in politics of development and will ensure continuity of massive progress of the constituency,” he said. “Brar, who changed his political loyalty thrice in a short period, stands exposed before the public who are prepared to teach him a lesson.”
Spelling out the PPP agenda, Johal said: “Curbing the VIP culture, bringing the state out of heavy debt and creating more jobs for youth are main issues of the PPP.”