Having lost three elections in a row — the assembly polls in 2007 and 2012 and the parliamentary polls in 2009 — Shiromani Akali Dal’s Prem Singh Chandumajra is fighting a do-or-die battle against senior Congress leader Ambika Soni.
It seems to be a straight fight for the Anandpur Sahib seat. The unfancied contenders include Aam Aadmi Party’s Himmat Singh Shergill, a Supreme Court lawyer; Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) candidate Balbir Singh Jadala, a farmer activist; Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) KS Makhan, a Punjabi folk singer; and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD-Amritsar) nominee Jaswant Singh Mann.
Soni, a first-timer in the Lok Sabha polls, is a three-time Rajya Sabha MP. She has remained closely associated with the power centre of the Congress since the days of Sanjay Gandhi and Indira Gandhi. Now, it was party president Rahul Gandhi who asked her to contest the parliamentary polls, and she is busy touring one dusty village after another on the campaign trail.
Soni’s clout can be gauged from the fact that when ex-MP Chandumajra called her a ‘ budhi aurat’ (old woman), it was former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal who hit back on her behalf and called the Akali leader a ‘ chor’ (thief), inviting the ire of the Election Commission.
Soni is married to an Indian Foreign Service officer who hails from Bajwara village in Hoshiarpur district, a part of which falls in Anandpur Sahib parliamentary constituency. “It’s a homecoming.
I was seeking to contest from the constituency in 2009, but a Youth Congress leader (Ravneet Bittu) was preferred. Now I am here to win,” announces Soni in a voice is choked addressing numerous rallies.
“As a union minister, I have done so much for Anandpur Sahib — released R 182 crore for the tercentenary celebrations of installation of Guru Granth Sahib and given funds for the Shaheed Bhagat Singh memorial at Khatkar Kalan (Nawanshahr). Also, it is due to my efforts that the Anandpur Sahib LS constituency came into existence,” she says, asserting that she is no outsider.
“Ravneet Bittu is no lesser candidate, but with his shift to Ludhiana, factionalism (in the Congress) has been checked,” quipped Soni.
Meanwhile, banking on the ‘ Narendra Modi wave’, Chandumajra has announced that Anandpur Sahib would witness 10 times more development with Modi as Prime Minister and Parkash Singh Badal as Punjab CM. “This chemistry would catalyse development,” he says.
Both leaders are involved in a no-holds-barred contest, but the key issues are still to be identified. “I think unemployment and drug menace are the biggest problems of the area,” says Soni. Chandumajra says he would work for the setting up of industry in the belt, so that there is no migration to neighbouring states. “The kandi belt needs better irrigation and checking the menace of wild animals,” he adds.
“Being an outsider, Soni has no link with the people at the ground level. My working style is to have direct connect with people of the constituency,” says Chandumajra. “Chandumajraji may know the length and breadth of the state, but I know my constituency,” retorts Soni, putting an end to the debate, at least for the time being.