The battlelines for Patiala Lok Sabha elections have been drawn and the Shiromani Akali Dal has pitted Deepinder Dhillon, 52, a Congressman-turned Akali, against three-time MP Preneet Kaur.
It's a battle between the Maharani and her former lieutenant as Deepinder had managed the last three elections for Preneet before switching over to the Akali Dal. The battle has turned out to be a tough one for Preneet as not only Deepinder but her one-time loyalist Dr Dharmavir Gandhi is also challenging her on the Aam Aadmi Party ticket.
Dhillon, a confidante of Preneet Kaur, joined the SAD on July 12, 2012, while Dr Dharamvir parted ways with Preneet in 2005 after accusing her of having failed to bring any development to Patiala.
Dhillon, an advocate by profession, grew under Preneet, as the latter trusted him and even projected him as a candidate from Dera Bassi. She got him appointed as vice-chairman of the PSIDC during the Capt Amarinder Singh government.
Dhillon unsuccessfully fought the by-election from Banur (now Dera Bassi) in 2009 when he was defeated by Jasjit Singh Bunny, son of late Capt Kanwajit Singh.
However, Dhillon parted ways with Preneet when he was denied the ticket in the 2012 Assembly elections. He rebelled against the Congress and his mentor Preneet, who for ensuring a ticket for her son Raninder Singh (from Samana) failed to back Dhillon, who had supported her for 15 years.
An upset Dhillon contested independently from Dera Bassi against party's official nominee Jasjeet Singh Randhawa and did fairly well in the election as he stood second and polled nearly 55,000 votes while Randhawa forfeited his security deposit. Later, Dhillon joined the Akali Dal, which appointed him chairman of the District Planning Board.
However, unlike in the previous Lok Sabha elections, Dhillon has an edge as the Akali Dal is united in Patiala. Dhillon, who is non-controversial, enjoys the support of almost all factions.
Dhillon told HT that he would make the failure of Preneet as MP as the major poll issue. "In the last 15 years, she had failed to bring any major development or employment-generating project to Patiala. This despite her remaining the MP, her husband the chief minister for five years, and then she becoming a union minister. Preneet failed badly, so I would ask people to trust me for the overall development of Patiala," said Dhillon.
With the Aam Aadmi Party fielding Dr Dharamvir Gandhi, who is popular in both urban and rural areas, the political equations have changed. If Gandhi manages to secure a large chunk of votes in urban areas, it would benefit the Akali Dal, which lags behind in urban areas.
Though Dhillon knows the ins and outs of the Preneet poll strategy, he faces a Herculean task against Preneet, who enjoys a good rapport with voters. Akali heavyweights like Capt Kanwaljit Singh, Prem Singh Chandumajra and Surjit Singh Rakhra have failed to register a victory over the former maharani. The ever increasing margin of her victory is an indicator of her popularity.
Traditionally, the Dhillon family was close to the Akali Dal. However, he shifted loyalty as Preneet jumped into electoral politics. He remained additional advocate general, PSIDC vice-chairman and Punjabi University senate member because of his proximity with Preneet. He contested the Banur by-election on a Congress ticket in 2009. However, in 2012, when Preneet failed to back him for a ticket from Dera Bassi, he contested as an independent. In June 2012, he joined the Akali Dal.