Battle ready: Ex-army chief JJ Singh marches to his own beat
Buoyed by garlands and siropas that greet him on the busy stretch from Anardana Chowk to Purani Kotwali, the former army chief and Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP candidate appears battle ready as he campaigns against the erstwhile maharaja of Patiala and Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh.punjab Updated: Jan 14, 2017 12:01 IST
“It’s a one-horse race,” says General Joginder Jaswant Singh (retd) in military style bravado.
Buoyed by garlands and siropas that greet him on the busy stretch from Anardana Chowk to Purani Kotwali, the former army chief and Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP candidate appears battle ready as he campaigns against the erstwhile maharaja of Patiala and Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh. “Locals tell me if they were to blindfold Capt Amarinder Singh in Adalat Bazaar, he won’t be able to reach home,” he says.
But the same locals turn around to say later that it’s sad that the General is accompanied by only 24-odd Akali-BJP workers. “Had Capt Amarinder been campaigning, this bazaar would’ve been flooded with supporters,” says one of them.
The General marches on unfazed. Retirement is not a word in his dictionary and he is determined to fight to the end. “I am the only chief after Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw who was injured in action. What is this battle for me?” he says.
- Poll quotient: Former army chief
- By the way: Only son, Vivek Singh, is an elected councillor in France
- Reads: Roots by Alex Haley and all books of Jeffrey Archer; fluent in French and Arabic
- Quotable quote: This battle is much easier than fighting terrorists
- Constituency: Patiala
Attired in a fiery red turban and a matching jacket, gifted by a tribal chief during his stint as Arunachal Pradesh governor, General JJ Singh is battle ready but his troops don’t seem willing. An Akali worker shares how local leaders are upset by his abusive tone that his friends term “commanding”. The General, on his part, says he is just speaking metaphorically.
Patiala mayor Amarinder Singh Bajaj admits the General is not the usual politician. “We are learning lessons in discipline,” he says with a smile as a bank official gets the dressing down for being inefficient. “What kind of bloody bank are you?” the General thunders.
LIFE IN THIRD PHASE
At his quiet Charan Bagh house, the General’s men include a Patiala-based cousin, a relative from Hyderabad, a batchmate from Dehradun and four soldiers from the Maratha Light Infantry. The living room is bare but for two pictures of Guru Gobind Singh and Guru Nanak and a few copies of his autobiography.
The General insists he has roots in Patiala. “Only today, I sent texts to a whole bunch of people telling them how I used to spend my summer vacations here,” he says.
“This is the third phase of my life,” he says. Regardless of his fate at the hustings, he says he is determined to focus on Patiala. “I was a general in the first phase, the governor of Arunachal Pradesh in the second and now I want to do seva (social service). Politics is the right platform for that,” he says.
The criticism of his decision to contest the polls by ex-servicemen rankles him. “Am I the first to contest? Were they drunk or asleep when General VK Singh contested? This is a ploy to make me flee the battlefield,” he says.
WHY HE CHOSE AKALIS
The General studied Punjab politics before taking the poll plunge. He says he chose the Akalis over the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party because of the work they have done to promote heritage and restore the hurt pride of the Sikhs. The General, whose two role models are Guru Gobind Singh and Shivaji, cites the memorial to Banda Bahadur as an example.
On his criticism of the Parkash Singh Badal Government during the inauguration of the war memorial in Amritsar, he says he was just comparing the sporting greats of his youth such as Milkha Singh with the youth of today.
He says the Congress has damaged the image, self-respect and dignity of Punjabis. “The violation of the Golden Temple by the armed forces, whatever be the reasons, was most undesirable. Travelling between Punjab and other parts of India became a humiliating affair after that,” he says.
On the Aam Aadmi Party, he says he liked its agenda and fresh ideas but was put off by its “Machiavellian and autocratic leader Arvind Kejriwal”.
The Akali-BJP combine, he insists, will come up trumps.
Back in the Adalat Bazaar, Parampreet Singh, a shopkeeper, is not so sure. “Raja (Capt Amarinder) knows how to charm us,” he says before adding “Kejriwal seems a great guy too though mediapersons don’t like him.”
The General’s cousin, Bhupinder Singh, says unity is all that the Akalis need to win the seat. But BJP district president SK Dev, who accompanied the General on the canvassing in the bazaars, says Patiala is a BJP base and the party would have won the battle had it got the ticket.
Patiala is clearly not a one-horse race.