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HindustanTimes Sun,26 Oct 2014

Bitter contest within Congress, BJP

Harkirat Singh and Aseem Bassi, Hindustan Times  Amritsar, February 13, 2014
First Published: 00:03 IST(13/2/2014) | Last Updated: 01:04 IST(13/2/2014)

Every politician, irrespective of political affiliations, considers it a privilege to represent Amritsar, the holy city, in Parliament. Notwithstanding the VIP status of the Lok Sabha constituency, the race for the party ticket used to be a smooth affair until the turn of the century.

Things changed when the BJP, opting for an outsider, chose cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu as its candidate in 2004. Sidhu became acceptable to the rank and file of the BJP after he defeated Congress stalwart RL Bhatia to make his maiden entry into the Lok Sabha. For the 2009 elections, Sidhu’s nomination was a smooth affair.


Camps within BJP
This time, the race for the BJP ticket has led to a polarisation between the Sidhu camp and those opposed to him. Though the SAD has given up the idea of swapping the Amritsar seat with the BJP, its leaders have made no secret of their dislike for Sidhu, who took the chief minister to task and accused the Punjab government of ignoring the holy city and jeopardising his development agenda.

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Sidhu’s challengers include state BJP vice-president Rajinder Mohan Singh Chhina. The other names that have come up are that of state party president Kamal Sharma and senior leader Arun Jaitley, who has his roots in Amritsar. Jaitley’s name had cropped up in the past elections but was not considered. Veteran BJP leader Dr Baldev Chawla has also put forward his name in case the party fails to arrive at a consensus.

Though Sharma has repeatedly admitted that Sidhu is the BJP’s best bet, his dislike for the ex-cricketer becomes evident from the company he keeps when in the city. He is generally seen with Chhina or local bodies minister Anil Joshi, who does not enjoy a good rapport with the MP.

Sharma may not have projected himself as a serious contender but he is keeping his options open in case the BJP decides to go in for a Hindu face. If not, then he will prefer Chhina over Sidhu.
Chhina is close to revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, who does not enjoy the best of relations with Sidhu.

Sidhu, on his part, seems confident of the nomination. However, if the party decides to use him for its national campaign, then he may suggest his wife and MLA Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu’s name as he may not like either Chhina or Sharma getting the ticket. Sidhu had Chhina removed as the chairman of the Amritsar Improvement Trust in 2010 and since then the two have not been on talking terms.

Sidhu’s detractors argue that due to his utterances against the state government, he may not get the full support of the Akalis. The pro-Chhina camp also cites the MP’s long absence from the constituency as something against him.
 
Battle in the Congress
After the loss and subsequent retirement of six-time MP Bhatia from active politics, a bitter contest is in the offing within the Congress. Already, barbs have started flying between prospective candidates.

The main contender is OP Soni, currently the MLA from Amritsar central and the vice-president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, in-charge of the Majha belt.

Soni has a large group within his party opposed to him. These include old warhorses like Jugal Kishore Sharma and Prof Darbari Lal and Dr Raj Kumar Verka, vice-chairman of the National Commission for SCs and BCs.

Another ticket aspirant is Batala MLA Ashwani Sekhri, an AICC secretary, who is banking on the support of Bhatia. Others include PPCC general secretary Sukhjinder Raj Singh Lalli Majithia, who has been quite active in taking on the Akalis.
 
Other contenders
Though the People’s Party of Punjab-led Sanjha Morcha has not yet made its intentions clear, it is likely to contest the seat. If the Morcha decides to opt for a CPI candidate, then senior leader Amarjit Singh Asal is the likely choice.


BJP stronghold since 2004
Results of Amritsar Lok Sabha seat since 1991:
Year                     Winner                          Party
1991                    RL Bhatia                   Congress
1996                    RL Bhatia                   Congress
1998                    Daya Singh Sodhi           BJP
1999                    RL Bhatia                   Congress
2004                    Navjot Singh Sidhu         BJP
2007*                  Navjot Singh Sidhu         BJP
2009                    Navjot Singh Sidhu         BJP
*Byelection
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