At a time when the SAD-BJP combine was thinking of having a cakewalk in Amritsar by fielding senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, the Congress high command has sprung a surprise by announcing former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh as its candidate. As the big contest builds up, HT talks to Jaitley, who is busy in his hotel room, devising strategy to outclass his opponent.
HT: How does it feel to contest your first Lok Sabha poll?
Jaitley: Starting from the ABVP to a party organisational man in every sense, I held various positions in the party. I didn’t contest as I was always asked to organise elections. From backseat driving, this time I am behind the wheel. It’s your connect with the people that is important. I am glad the party has given me this opportunity.
What’s your take on your opponent?
In this election, the Congress is an underdog. They are going out of the way to request senior leaders to contest the polls. Capt saab has come in as a reluctant candidate, confessing that he may not be able to do justice to Amritsar. Now that he is here, I wish him all the best. Let the better man win. The test will be who is more qualified to be the powerful voice of Amritsar and Punjab at the Centre. I feel I am eminently qualified for that and say it with all modesty.
Why did you choose Punjab to contest? In a Sikh-dominated constituency, your party ignored a Sikh face.
I am a Punjabi; my father belonged to Lahore, mother to Amritsar. I identify myself with the city because of my roots here. I know the local issues and am not an outsider. I am more of an Amritsari than my opponent. My candidature has added enthusiasm in the SAD-BJP cadres. I do not see my voters according to their religion. I see them as citizens of India, Punjab and Amritsar.
You are relying more on SAD, which faces an anti-incumbency factor?
The SAD and BJP have a long-standing relationship. I am fortunate to enjoy the affection of both parties here. In the 2012 assembly polls also, there was a talk of anti-incumbency but the results proved otherwise.
CM Badal has projected you as deputy PM and a game-changer for Punjab.
I am not looking for any post. My politics is my commitment to the party and the people. Badal saab and Punjab are looking for an important voice at the Centre and they have hope in me. What position I get is secondary.
Capt Amarinder is known for his aggression whereas you have a sophisticated style. Won’t you be tied down to Amritsar, especially when the party also expects national duty from you?
Aggression is in ideas, not merely in body language. You can be dignified and yet effective. In my parliamentary career, on the floor of the house I have always maintained dignity but made strongest attacks on the government. Language gives you the facility of being dignified and yet be aggressive. Arrogance and lack of courtesy can’t be aggression. In parliamentary democracy, charmed aggression is far more effective than rude aggression. I will spend a lot of time in Amritsar and simultaneously look after the national campaign. Time management is my strength and I use social networking.
Why did the BJP get rid of sitting MP Navjot Sidhu? There is a sentiment that Akalis did not want him.
There is no question of getting rid of Sidhu. He is an asset to the party. I tried to persuade him to contest from Amritsar or somewhere else. He persuaded me and succeeded. I don’t want to get into personal battles. Politics is the art of the possible. The party will use Sidhu’s services effectively.
Was your entry into the electoral battle planned? Don’t you feel detached from voters?
I have never planned my politics. Emergency was the turning point that strengthened my belief. Leaving law practice and becoming full-time politician was also not planned. I don’t feel detached. I am very much Amritsari. My blood is Amritsari. All through my political career, I have been asking for votes for others. This time I will ask votes for myself and am confident of my win.