Sangrur MP Vijay Inder Singla, a key member of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s young brigade, easily defeated Akali stalwart Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. However, he is facing an uphill task this time as he is up ag ainst Dhindsa again, besides comedian-turned - politician and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Bhagwant Mann.
Factionalism and strained ties with some of the party MLAs of assembly segments under Sangrur Lok Sabha seat are the other big challenges for Singla.
After holding a meeting at his Sangrur residence with local workers and going through his daily schedule, Singla steps into his constituency at 8am on a daily basis.
Undeterred by the impressive road show held by AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal in Malerkotla, Singla’s cavalcade moves t owards the densely populated Muslim town, even as harvesting is in full swing in Punjab’s major wheat-producing district.
With Sangrur being the hub of vegetable cultivation, Singla first halts at the vegetable market to carry out door-to-door campaigning. He is accompanied by a dholi who belts out beats.
Though senior party leaders of the town skip the door-to-door campaigning, Singla, accompanied by around 50 local Hindu and Muslim Congress leaders, takes a quick round, requesting vegetable vendors with folded hands to vote for him.
Former president of the Malerkotla municipal council Sardar Mohammad Dara asks him to meet vegetable traders.
“Mera dhyan rakhna aur mujhe vote dalna (take care of me and vote for me),” are his only words as he meets people.
Having oranges, he tells this re porter: “The Election Commission has put curbs on campaigning and has been closely watching expenses of candidates. They have even restricted us to two extra vehicles with our cavalcade.”
Adjacent to the vegetable market is the grain market, which abounds with heaps of wheat and unlifted gunny bags.
Walking over the gunny bags fileld with wheat, Singla tries to reach out to every commission agent sitting in front of his shop, overseeing the procurement.
“Ena kolon ik percent nahin hildi vote, kundian pakian han (No one can influence them, they are all Congress voters),” says Dara.
After canvassing in the grain market, Singla asks his workers to hire an open utility van to campaign in the market area of Malerkotla town, but they insist on walking and meeting people in the market, which is around 700 metres away.
He says, “I have personalised my campaign. I’m focusing on meeting people face-to-face rather than holding stereotyped rallies like other politicians. Dhindsa and Mann cannot do what I am doing.” While canvassing, he keeps tabs on campaigning going on in other segments of his constituency.
At the entry point to the market, groups of youngsters start raising slogans such as “Allah ke karam se jeetega, maula ke karam se jeetega, yeh panje vala jeetega (By the grace of Allah, the Congress candidate will win).”
He faces embarrassment at the local bus stand as shopkeepers complain of deplorable conditions regarding sanitation and other facilities, accusing politicians of being indifferent to their problems.
With no lunch break, it’s samosas and a soft drink that give Singla the energy to continue campaigning in the heat.
As his procession enters deep into the Mohammadan town, the bazaar roads gets narrower and the number of workers accompanying him gets thinner. From sadar bazaar to Delhi gate, he receives a warm welcome at the ‘satta’ bazaar, where his workers shower rose petals on him.
After covering markets and Muslim areas, he heads for a meeting in Hindu-dominated wards at 4pm, besides overseeing preparations for a late evening rally in Muslim areas, to be addressed by Congress campaign incharge Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and former Malerkotla MLA Razia Sultana. He signs off as the sound of ‘dhol’ beats fades away.