In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Vijay Inder Singla was termed as a political greenhorn when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi pitted him against two former union ministers — Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidate Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Lok Bhalai Party chief Balwant Singh Ramoowalia. Singla not only proved his detractors wrong by winning the elections but also silenced his critics by bringing several important projects to this backward district of the Malwa region.
During campaigning, he had appealed to voters, “Give me a chance. I will show you what a member of Parliament can do.” And in the past five years, he has let his work do the talking.
Singla owes a lot to his rapport with Rahul, who batted for some of his major projects. Like his father late Sant Ram Singla, former MP from Patiala, he is known for not saying no to anyone who approaches him for work. He is no longer considered an outsider by his electorate.
Singla claims that this region did not receive the attention of political representatives in terms of infrastructure development. “Ever since I became the MP, I focused on getting big-ticket projects to improve the socio-economic prospects of my constituency. And for this I concentrated on rail and road connectivity, including stoppages of Shatabdi Express at Sangrur and Dhuri, several new trains, and upgradation and electrification of the Jakhal-Sangrur-Dhuri-Ludhiana railway track at a cost of Rs 126 crore.”
He also takes credit for the approval to widening of National Highway-64 (Zirakpur-Bathinda section) at a cost of about Rs 2,000 crore and lists nearly Rs 400-crore other projects, including Rs 200 crore spent under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana.
Singla is banking on the PGIMER satellite centre project to bolster his poll prospects. Following the Congress debacle in the 2012 assembly polls, he had found himself on a sticky wicket. However, the big-ticket project gave him a much-needed shot in the arm. Moreover, the Rs 10-crore project for upgradation of the Sangrur sports stadium fulfilled a major pending demand of area residents.
“This hospital will not only be a specialised treatment centre but also a referral centre for other districts of Punjab. Once operational, it will provide low-cost treatment in 12 super-specialty medical fields, including cancer. It will also give a boost to economic activity in the region and generate jobs,” he adds.
In an effort to connect with the youth, he allocated Rs1.86 crore from his MPLAD (local area develoment) fund to youth clubs.
However, despite his performance, he faces a Herculean task in the upcoming parliamentary elections. His meteoric rise has not gone well with senior Congressmen, with seven of the nine party leaders who contested the 2012 assembly polls not on good terms with Singla."He is high-headed. He failed to strike a chord with the Congress leadership of the area. Rahul would not be there to back him all the time. It’s us who have to seek votes for him in our assembly segments," said a MLA, requesting anonymity.
Singla’s differences with Congress MLAs Arvind Khanna (Dhuri) and Kewal Singh Dhillon (Barnala) are an open secret, while party stalwarts such as former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal are also disgruntled.
Meanwhile, the SAD is expecting much from the influence wielded by Ramoowalia, who got more than 1 lakh votes in the 2009 polls and later merged his party into the former. This time, it’s a direct fight between Singla and Dhindsa.
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Sharifuddin Shariq, Baramulla