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HindustanTimes Tue,16 Sep 2014

Stature is at stake in region’s biggest battle

Navneet Sharma and Aseem Bassi , Hindustan Times  Amritsar, April 16, 2014
First Published: 08:45 IST(16/4/2014) | Last Updated: 09:26 IST(16/4/2014)

It’s not being called a “clash of titans” for nothing. The two main contestants, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley of the BJP, and former Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh of the Congress, for this prestigious seat are not just familiar faces. They are among the top guns of their parties with enormous experience and standing.

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Jaitley, who replaced threetime MP Navjot Singh Sidhu, is widely seen as number two to his party’s PM pick Narendra Modi and is making his maiden bid to get elected to the Lok Sabha. If his party gets the numbers to form the government, he seems set to get a key position.

On the other hand, Amarinder is the most popular leader of the Congress in Punjab. Dumped by his party after a string of failures, he, despite initial reluctance to enter the fray, is looking for resurrection. With high stakes on both sides, the two have gone all-out in this hot contest too close to call.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has fielded Dr Daljit Singh (79), a renowned eye surgeon, to make the fight triangular. Though he is getting encouraging response, the debutant politician, who is also the oldest candidate in the state, is likely to end up among the also-rans.

Jaitley is counting on his party’s traditional vote bank in urban areas, Modi’s appeal, the hold of ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Majha, and the antiincumbency against the central government, while the Congress is betting big on its candidate’s charisma, strong pockets of support, and the popular belief that the political landscape, with a 64% Sikh vote, is favourable to candidates from the community. Also, Amarinder is hoping to cash in on the anti-incumbency undercurrent against the state government.

When the BJP replaced Sidhu, who had a running battle with SAD chief and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal, with Jaitley, the party expected an easy victory, more so on assurances from the SAD, whose leaders keep bragging about their ‘poll management’ skills, to deliver the seat with the “highest-ever margin”. However, the Congress, down in the dumps and battling dissent after defeats in successive assembly polls, pushed the former CM — its best bet — into the poll arena.

As is his wont, Amarinder went to the constituency hitting out at Jaitley and the Badals. The stinging exchanges, including barbs on each other’s personal lives, continue unabated. Playing on his national standing, Jaitley is focusing more on his “vision” for the area and the push he could give if the NDA comes to power.

“The situation is fluid. The youth has access to the internet and young voters thus feel empowered; their thinking is changing. There will be split in families as far as voting pattern goes this time,” says AAP’s Dr Singh.

The intensity of the slugfest, which has monopolised space and debate in the media, is there for everyone to see. As poll campaigning heats up further, the noises will grow shriller, sparring will get more intense and the contestants bolder. Reputations of several stalwarts rest on this contest.

TOMORROW: HOSHIARPUR

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