A cavalcade of SUVs and cars moving slowly in this part of Punjab's Tarn Taran district should not be mistaken for a candidate on the move canvassing support. It may be poll season but it is also the time for marriages.
As candidates slug it out in the bitter winter cold, baratis down a couple of drinks and then let themselves loose on the dance floor inside wedding "palaces" that dot Patti town and rural areas in adjoining Amritsar district.
Even amid the merrymaking, however, Majhails - as residents belonging to the state's northern Majha region are called - find time to sit down and discuss the January 30 assembly elections, often leading to heated discussions but no consensus on who has the edge this time - food and civil supplies minister Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon, 52, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidate and sitting MLA from Patti, or the Congress' Harminder Singh Gill.
The wedding functions do not go unnoticed by the candidates.
"Polls or no polls, I always try to attend social functions to which I have been invited in my constituency and even in neighbouring areas," said Kairon, a three-time MLA from here and son-in-law of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.
Pitted against him again is 48-year-old Gill, his 2007 adversary.
There are in all seven candidates from Patti but as in 2007 it will be a direct clash between Kairon and Gill.
Coming from a family of Congressmen, Kairon switched over to the 'Panth' (Akali Dal) before the 1997 assembly polls, which he had no difficulty in winning.
On the other hand, Gill, a former member of the All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF), joined the Congress.
"All, whether Akali or Congress, have respect for their respective religions," said Gill. "After all even Congressmen can be devoted Sikhs, so what is wrong if I joined the Congress, a secular party?"
Gill is undaunted by the stature of his opponent, the grandson of the legendary Partap Singh Kairon, one of the most powerful chief ministers of Punjab. Kairon's father, Surinder Singh Kairon, had represented Patti constituency and also the Tarn Taran parliamentary constituency in the Lok Sabha.
Partap Singh Kairon himself represented Patti on a number of occasions.
But Gill believes his opponent's background can be a handicap.
"I have been in touch with the masses even after losing in 2007 while Kairon, probably due to his powerful family background, functioned through remote control and only occasionally came here," Gill said, claiming that the SAD leader worked through a set of loyal officials while staying put in Chandigarh.
While Gill uses a white Toyota Fortuner to campaign, Kairon is driven around in a Mahindra Scorpio of the same colour.
Instead of holding big rallies, both prefer to move from village to village and meet residents in the homes of supporters.
HT caught up with Gill at Lauka village, sporting a white kurta-pyjama, Nike jacket and Adidas shoes, sitting in the house of a supporter and talking to a group of 20-25 people, all sipping tea. "I start off from my home in Patti town early morning after meeting my campaign team. I try to cover around 18-20 villages a day," he said. "I'm not back home before midnight. People are gracious enough to offer us lunch or tea and sometimes even dinner."
The team managing his campaign comprises youngsters mostly in their late twenties or early thirties. His wife, Paramjit Kaur, helps in canvassing support, mainly in Patti town.
Kairon is more reserved in his interaction with the media, at least to begin with. Dressed in a white kurta-pyjama and a blue coat, he was surrounded by around 30 people, all eager to hear his views, in Booh village.
Kairon, too, starts early and covers about 20 villages in a day. His wife Perneet Kaur, Badal's daughter, pitches in to help the campaign. "My cousins and other relatives are all here to canvass for me," Kairon said. "I refrain from making personal attacks and concentrate on what I have done for my people. My voters are my family."
Issues at stake
"I have never discriminated against any village and develop the entire area," Kairon said. "Harike is the entry to Majha from the Malwa side and the gateway to the Harmandir Sahib, so it is important for us to develop this entire area."
He said he would upgrade government schools in Harike to Class 12 and set up a health centre in his next stint.
"Education is what we need to progress," he said.
He takes credit for opening an extension centre of the Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University at Bhoo. This was done as the area had great scope for dairy farming, he said. He said he also opened a krishi vigyan kendra at Harike, developed link roads, and took anti-flood measure measures in the area between Harike bridge and Muthianwale from where river Sutlej enters Pakistan.
He moves on to the aata-dal scheme.
"In the previous Congress government, a list of only 4.62 lakh BPL families (from Punjab) were sent to the Centre," the minister said. "However, I took steps to do away with such limited parameters and included a total of 14 lakh families under this scheme."
He said farming was at the crossroads in Punjab and central schemes were needed to get farmers out of this crisis.
As in the previous polls he was seeking votes on the basis of what he had done for the constituency since he was elected from here for the first time in 1997 and then in 2002 and 2007, he said.
But Gill said Kairon's claims were hollow, poining to the "lack of employment venues and growing drug addiction" in the constituency. "First it was angrez (British) bhagao, desh bachao, now it is Adesh bhagao, Patti bachao (First the slogan was throw out the British and save the nation, now it is get rid of Adesh and save Patti)," Gill said. He said a lot was expected of Kairon, being a minister and son-in-law of the chief minister, but the Akali leader "has failed to live up to the expectations" of the people.
"There are government schools but no teachers. There are no good government hospitals and people have to depend on private clinics," the Congress candidate said. "Education and health sectors are in disarray."
He alleged that drugs were freely available in the area because of a nexus between certain politicians, the drug mafia and policemen.
"Fake cases have been registered against Congress workers," he said.
He said the foundation stone for a bridge over the Sutlej laid by the chief minister last month at Muthianwali village was a "poll gimmick" as land had not been acquired for the project.
"A Congress government is coming to power in the state," Gill said. "So why not have a Congress MLA from Patti for better development."