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On comeback trail, Capt hopes for home run

india Updated: Apr 21, 2009 00:46 IST
Manish Tiwari

It’s 9.30 am and former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh is all set to embark on his election tour to Malwa. A quick breakfast at his Moti Bagh palace in Patiala, and the Congress’s star campaigner heads for Bathinda in a cavalcade.

Capt Amarinder knows he has re-emerged as the strongest Congress leader in Punjab after nearly two years of isolation by the party high command. He looks relaxed as he talks to party leaders over the phone, discussing the poll scene and fixing schedules for rallies across the state.

As he alights from his car after a two-hour journey, a rousing reception by hundreds of supporters welcomes him. They have been waiting for hours at MLA Jeet Mohinder Sidhu’s residence.

A closed-door meeting with party leaders on poll arrangements in Bathinda, where his son Raninder Singh is pitted against Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal’s wife Harsimrat Kaur, he proceeds towards the Deputy Commissioner’s office, where Raninder files his nomination papers.

The mood is upbeat. Capt Amarinder waves en route as supporters hail his arrival with cheering and slogans. They assure him of a Congress win.

The former chief minister tells HT that police atrocities against Congress workers during the (Parkash Singh) Badal regime, the government’s non-performance and misrule have alienated voters.

“This election is all about a comparison of the present Akali government and the previous Congress one led by me. The groundswell is in our favour. We seem to be heading for a landslide victory.”

For the people, however, it’s not just a fight between the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress. This time, the fight is basically between the Badal and Amarinder clans.

After lunch at 2.30 pm, it’s time to head for the next venue, Abulkhurana village, 45 km from Bathinda.

Capt Amarinder, who is facing four corruption cases filed by the Badal government, can’t suppress his sense of humour as the cavalcade crosses the native village of his arch rival and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.

“What if we drop by at the Badals for a cup of coffee? They won’t know what to do,” he laughs.

One of his personal staff points towards the new house being built by the Badals in the village. “It looks like a qila (fort)! They seem to be competing with me…Good,” he quips.

Once at Abulkhurana, he comes straight to the point. Addressing a gathering, he says: “There’s a clear wave against the Badals. They’ve booked 7,000 Congressmen in false cases. We won’t take all this lying down. Once in power, we will reopen these cases and ensure justice.”

His speech on “police brutality” against Congress workers has the supporters calling for ‘badla’ (revenge) against the ruling SAD.

Asking villagers to root out the Akalis in the elections, Capt Amarinder reminds them of his family’s centuries old association with Bathinda.

“My ancestors shifted to Bathinda from Jaisalmer in 1305. Tikku (Raninder) is your son and he needs your blessings.”

Capt Amarinder patiently hears out the grievances of the locals, assures them of all possible help before moving on.

All this while, his phone keeps ringing and he continues issuing instructions to party activists. In between, he doesn’t forget to wave and shake hands with people on the roadside till he is finally back to Bathinda for a night halt.

It’s almost 10 pm and another hectic day of campaigning draws to an end with a quiet dinner. The Congress leader is calm and cheerful.

Maybe he knows what lies ahead for his party and him.