An astute politician, she plays her dice well. Congress veteran Ambika Soni, 71, contesting from Anandpur Sahib, insists on underlining that she is a Hoshiarpuria-Punjabi. “Main Punjab di dhee haan, ’ te tuhadi vaddi bhen. (I am daughter of Punjab and your elder sister),” she says at her rallies, seeking to address the ‘outsider’ tag at every stop as we follow her during campaigning on Sunday.
All females get hugs and males get ‘Sat Sri Akal’ with folded hands, and she keeps her smile intact throughout as she addresses meetings in Mohali, the region that can plays a decisive role in the constituency.
Her head covered, wrapped in a dupatta in typical rural Punjabi style, she addresses four meetings in the town and five in the surrounding villages, all of them well-attended. In the pockets of her kurta, she keeps little slips on which she jots down points made by speakers who precede her, and then tries to incorporate these into her speech.
“My family has an association of 127 years with Bajwara village in Hoshiarpur. Our family runs a school and serai in the village,” she tells the crowds, rubbishing opponents’ remarks about her being an outsider, at the first public meeting of the day in Phase 3A.
Accompanied by local MLA Balbir Singh Sidhu, she says she is banking on him. “After becoming the MP, I will know the names of each and every person in the constituency, like Balbir Sidhu knows.”
At Landran, they are joined by the party MLA from Fatehgarh Sahib, Kuljit Singh Nagra, who is also a secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). Though Fatehgarh Sahib is not among the nine assembly seats falling in Anandpur Sahib parliamentary segment, there is a link between Nagra and Soni. In the 2012 assembly polls, Nagra had defeated the SAD’s Prem Singh Chandumajra, who is now Soni’s opponent.
Nagra goes ballistic against Chandumajra amid applause by the audience that enjoys every barb.
After a lunch break at Sidhu’s home, Soni and the team are out again. She, on her part, graciously avoids a direct attack on Chandumajra, but advises everyone to “give respect to the women”.
In the Phase-7 market, Chandigarh MP and former railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, is already on the mike even as Soni is still to arrive. Within moments, amid slogans of ‘Ambika Soni, zindabad’, the candidate herself is on the dais.
She tries another local connection, “I have given Rs. 182 crore for celebrating the Gur-ta-Gaddi Diwas, the tercentenary of Guru Granth Sahib, besides funds for maintaining the birthplace of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and for a memorial of Guru Ravidass, during my tenure as union tourism minister.”
At a meeting in Phase 9, she pledges to fight the drug menace and give “maximum jobs” to the youth of Anandpur Sahib. “No matter if I win or lose, I am not going to change my constituency like my opponent,” she says, in a veiled attack on Chandumajra.