Never before has the Lok Sabha contest in Chandigarh generated such interest and heat. To cut through the noise, potshots and the typical rhetoric, Hindustan Times organised ‘Candidatetalk@ht’ at The Lalit hotel here on Friday, where the top three contenders — Congress incumbent Pawan Kumar Bansal, BJP’s Kirron Kher and the AAP’s Gul Panag — came together on one platform for the first time, and shared their vision for City Beautiful and its not-so-beautiful parts.
With the two actresses, who have been taking potshots liberally at each other, pitted against the political veteran, barbs did fly. But that wasn’t all. As the election is being fought on the promises of corruption-free, good governance, they came prepared with agendas.
Slum rehabilitation and housing for the poor, health and education infrastructure, a robust public transport system including metro rail, and safety of women formed the crux of their promises, though their approaches defined their politics.
Kher, who made it a point to underline her connection with the city, laid out vaguely the problems of parking, traffic and lack of forward planning. Her solutions lay in the “decisive leadership” of BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi. Bansal, seeking his fourth consecutive LS victory and the fifth overall from Chandigarh, blamed systemic delays for unfulfilled promises, and listed out the completed projects.
He acknowledged that much remained to be done, and said that was why he wanted another term. Panag, who also underlined her roots in Chandigarh, cited data and dug out news reports to make her points. Insisting that she wanted to “challenge the status quo”, she emphasised AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal’s ideas of “participatory democracy”. However, taking recourse to humour, Kher and Bansal appeared on one side of the debate when Panag faced barbs from her Bollywood colleague as well as her “father’s old schoolmate”.
From questioning the AAP’s “protest” approach, to dismissing her for being inexperienced, she and her party were spared no criticism. Yet, Kher and Panag both did not mention the railway post bribery scam — in which Bansal’s nephew was arrested last year, and Bansal had to resultantly resign as railway minister — until a question was put to him by HT. He took recourse to the legal aspect, as he has been given a clean chit by the investigating agency, and reiterated that it was “a conspiracy”.
Panag belatedly alleged “incompetence or collusion” on his part. Kher, despite first calling it a “national issue”, said the campaign “need not be personal”.