The Congress poll punch of fielding its big guns from Punjab has sparked a fresh war of words among poll rivals. After Capt Amarinder Singh and Arun Jaitley -- pitted against each other at Amritsar -- took potshots at each other over the "outsider" tag besides "shying away" from contesting polls, former union minister Ambika Soni on Tuesday hit the poll trail in Anandpur Sahib by taking on rival Prem Singh Chandumajra of the Shiromani Akali Dal, over the "old woman" barb.
"He has called me an old woman. I looked into Wikipedia for his age. He is 64 while I am 71. Though seven years younger to me, he looks much older. But I have no problem calling him my younger brother," Soni quipped.
Interestingly, a Youth Congress president way back in 1975, Ambika has replaced sitting MP and former Youth Congress president Ravneet Bittu, after his name was announced by the party. On the change, she says seniority is the flavour of this election for the Congress in Punjab.
"In 2009, I was the only contender from the Anandpur Sahib seat. But the party decided to field its youth face, Bittu, and I worked to ensure his win. This time round, the party has brought its senior leaders in the fray as it feels there are strong undercurrents of anti-incumbency against the ruling Akalis.
The Congress wants to give the people of Punjab a chance to vent their anger and cast their protest vote against the ruling regime. They have three more years to go in the state and a defeat in these elections will serve as the much-needed wake-up call to tame them down," Ambika said.
She also countered the accusation of being a parachute candidate, saying she had nurtured the Anandpur Sahib constituency since 2006. "I am preparing a whole dossier on what I have done for Anandpur Sahib, from the distribution of my MPLAD funds to the area. As a Rajya Sabha member, I have worked a lot for Hoshiarpur but the seat was reserved after delimitation.
I then wanted to look out for a seat and attended many hearings of the delimitation commission when the Lok Sabha seat of Anandpur Sahib was being carved out," she said.
Talking of her long association with Punjab, Ambika said, "I studied at a government model school in Chandigarh and my father was a chief secretary in the Partap Singh Kairon government. My home is in Chandigarh and I have represented the state as a Rajya Sabha MP and have worked in Hoshiarpur and its neighbouring districts of Anandpur Sahib and Nawanshahar."
Stopping short of admitting anti-incumbency was a factor behind Bittu's exit, Ambika said both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi spoke to Bittu before her name was announced. "He was to accompany me on Tuesday but was told by the party to stay back in Delhi for talks. He would join my poll campaign. If you see the lists of all political parties, many last-minute changes have been done according to the changing poll dynamics," she added.
Bittu's campaign failed to take off
Anti-incumbency and intense infighting saw the exit of sitting Congress MP Ravneet Bittu from Anandpur Sahib seat. According to Congress sources in Delhi, Bittu's campaign had failed to pick up owing to the anti-incumbency factor and local Congress MLAs not supporting him. Soni is a better bet as she is familiar with the constituency and is pitted against serial poll loser Prem Singh Chandumajra, who has lost three elections in a row. He lost the assembly polls from Lehragaga in 2007, parliamentary elections from Patiala in 2009 and the assembly elections from Fatehgarh Sahib in 2012.