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HindustanTimes Sat,20 Sep 2014

Amritsar proves SAD-BJP's Waterloo, 'game-changer' for Cong

Sukhdeep Kaur, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, May 16, 2014
First Published: 22:48 IST(16/5/2014) | Last Updated: 23:09 IST(16/5/2014)

It is one seat that has changed the fate of three main political parties in Punjab in one fell stroke. While a victory in Amritsar will see a resurrection of former Punjab chief Capt Amarinder Singh within the Congress as he trounced BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley by over one lakh votes even as his successor Partap Bajwa suffered a huge blow from Gurdaspur, the strategy of fielding both Amarinder and Bajwa saw a "headless" Congress hitting a low tally of three seats out of 13 in the state.

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But the biggest casualty of the poll outcome in the holy city will be the ties between the ruling Badals and the BJP, for which Amritsar has become the only Waterloo after a historic mandate. So much was at stake in Amritsar that chief minister Parkash Singh Badal was keen on winning it than even Bathinda, from where his daughter-in-law Harsimrat was taking on his estranged nephew Manpreet Badal.

The Badals' strategy to oust cricketer-turned MP Navjot Sidhu from Amritsar by replacing him with a candidate of Jaitley's stature has backfired and the alliance is bound to feel the heat of the ill-conceived move. According to BJP sources, Jaitley has made his displeasure at the "misadventure" known to BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi even before the verdict. The first head to roll has been of BJP minister from Amritsar, Anil Joshi, who together with Akali minister Bikram Singh Majithia had embarked on the "Sidhu out, Jaitley in" mission.

Jaitley's debut election debacle has soured relations between the allies to an extent that there are already murmurs of equality in partnership in terms of distribution of seats for the 2017 assembly polls.

By securing just four seats out of 10 they contested against the BJP's two out of three, the Badals have also lost the moral ground to stake a claim to a plum berth in the NDA cabinet. Though being the minority Sikh face in Hindu-dominated NDA will still see the SAD getting a berth or two, its role as a dominant partner that calls the shots in the alliance is in for a drastic change. The BJP had been more of a "complaint" partner in the alliance in the last few years, conceding to all decisions of the Akali Dal.

The Amritsar verdict will also bring a major churning in the divided Punjab BJP. By refusing to campaign for his mentor Jaitley while his camp tacitly supported the Congress, Sidhu's opponents in the party, including state president Kamal Sharma and Joshi, will be gunning for him while the rival camp opposed to these two will be emboldened to seek a total overhaul.

As for the Congress, it suffered a direct hit in Patiala as Amarinder took on Jaitley. The erstwhile Patiala royal was unable to support wife Preneet Kaur's campaign seeing the Congress concede its stronghold to the debutant Aam Aadmi Party. Like Akalis and the BJP, the Congress too will be left brooding if fielding Amarinder was a strategy that should have been avoided. Both he and Bajwa were reluctant candidates, both wanted to campaign on other seats and finally the party fought a "headless" battle.

Worst still, the one the Congress high command chose over the other to lead the party has lost both his seat and face to do so. The voices of dissent against Bajwa's leadership are only going to grow shriller in face of the party's humiliating poll debacle. Battleground Amritsar proved to be as much a game-changer for the Congress as for the SAD-BJP. 


 

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