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Rivals bank on moolah, clout

Former princely state to witness clash of influential moneybags. Jasdeep Singh Malhotra reports.

india Updated: Jan 15, 2012 13:37 IST
Jasdeep Singh Malhotra
Sarabjit-Singh-Makkar-and-Rana-Gurjit-Singh
Sarabjit-Singh-Makkar-and-Rana-Gurjit-Singh

The erstwhile princely state of Kapurthala is all set to witness a high-voltage political contest as wealthy and influential politicians from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Congress are pitted against each other.

Congress nominee Rana Gurjit Singh, a former Jalandhar MP known for his political management skills, is making all-out efforts to capture the seat, currently being represented by his wife, Rajbans Kaur.

Rana Gurjit is keen to regain his political status after being defeated by SAD’s Rattan Singh Ajnala from the Khadoor Sahib parliamentary constituency in 2009.

On the other side of the political divide is SAD nominee Sarabjit Singh Makkar, the Adampur MLA, who is contesting from Kapurthala since his own constituency got reserved following delimitation. A firebrand leader, Makkar is depending on the development plank to remain in the Vidhan Sabha.

A liquor and sugar baron, Rana Gurjit, with total declared assets of more than Rs 68 crore, is tapping the area’s influential residents to consolidate his vote bank. And the businessman-cum-brick kiln owner Makkar, riding on assets worth Rs 45 crore, is hoping the united SAD-BJP leadership in urban areas will help get in the requisite votes.

Both leaders are known for bringing in a large number of ‘outsiders’ into their constituencies for campaigning.

Urban voters hold the key, though the constituency also includes more than 100 villages.

It has to be seen if BJP leaders would be able to attract Hindu voters in Makkar’s favour by focusing on the work done in the past five years. On his part, the Congress nominee is counting on the anti-incumbency mood and “failure” to initiate big-ticket projects.

Though the visionary Maharaja of Kapurthala Jagatjit Singh brought in French architects to chisel out a number of beautiful edifices, the crumbling heritage buildings like the Baghi Khana and royal courts stand witness to haphazard urban growth. There is lack of basic civic amenities and educational facilities, and use of drugs among youngsters has risen.

“Though I submitted numerous complaints to the local municipal council for getting streetlights in my lane repaired in the past two months, the authorities have failed to rectify the fault,” said Narinder Cheema (50), a retired principal and resident of the town’s Rose Avenue locality. “The sweeper visits the lane only once a week. Though we elect the MLA, he does not pay attention to the basic problems of the public. We will vote for a non-corrupt politician this time.”

Another local resident, Amanpreet Kaur, who is pursuing MA (Humanities), said there was a dearth of jobs in the government and private sectors. “A large section of the educated youth is sitting idle,” she said. “I will vote for a candidate or party that will ensure more job avenues in Kapurthala.”

Due to strict implementation of the poll code, electioneering is duller, with traditional campaign material like billboards missing from the town’s landscape. Both candidates are holding nukkad meetings and prefer door-to-door campaigning without party flags or loud speakers.

Returning officer Neeraj Gupta said 34 polling booths had been declared ‘highly sensitive’ and 73 ‘sensitive’ of a total of 143. “Five habitats have been identified under the ‘vulnerable mapping’ exercise,” he said. “We will instill confidence in voters in such areas as per the EC orders.”