In the dusty lanes of Sangtiwala village, as former union minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa starts his speech, he takes a quick look at the gathering and then starts naming the sitting sarpanch, ex-sarpanch and even his predecessor, apart from the village’s who’s who, who are all sitting under a banyan tree at the satth (village square).
This has been a common feature of his opening speech in every village. Ever since he first became an MLA four decades ago, Dhindsa has never changed his constituency. Thus, visiting the same villages, he has formed a rapport with influential persons of every village.
After naming them all, Dhindsa says, “I have three generations’ ties with all of you. I worked with your grandparents, your father and now you. Politicians change seats in every election, but I have been with you for the past 42 years.
“Na pehla kadi shikayat da mauka ditta, na hun dewanga… Dasso hor koyi aunda tuhade kol (I never gave you any reason to complain in the past, nor will I do in future… tell me if anyone from another party visits you?).”
Unlike other SAD-BJP candidates, who are asking for votes only on the basis of the ‘Modi wave’, Dhindsa plays his own card (by projecting himself as future union minister) and also hard- sells his development work.
After all, he and his son (Punjab finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa) had distributed nearly Rs. 63 crore for development works in nine assembly segments of Sangrur Lok Sabha seat in the past one and-a-half years.
After opening this speech, in which he shows his rapports with villagers, Dhindsa reminds them about development work undertaken in the village by him or his son. And then he asks for votes.
His protégé, chief parliamentary secretary Sant Balbir Singh Ghunas, also projects Dhindsa as the future union cabinet minister. “With Dhindsa as an NDA minister, and Parminder here as finance minister, there would be no dearth of funds,” says Ghunas.
As the entry of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Bhagwant Mann has made the fight triangular, Dhindsa not only targets Congress nominee Vijay Inder Singla but also attacks Mann specifically.
“You know I never indulge in personal attacks, but it’s my duty to make you aware you that two years ago, Mann had taken a pledge at Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s native place that he won’t leave the People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) and its president Manpreet Badal.
But he failed to keep the pledge and joined the AAP. Would you trust such a turncoat (Mann)?” he says, adding that “it is the same Bhagwant Mann who used to shower praises on me and my son when our supporters hired him for cultural or political rallies.
Ask him why he did not visit Lehragaga, from where he finished third in the 2012 assembly elections.”
Claiming that the AAP is helping the Congress by eating into anti-UPA votes, he says, “Tell me if Mann says anything at all about Operation Bluestar or the 1984 riots. The AAP is a creation of Congress to cut into anti-UPA votes, so don’t trust this party.”
Dhindsa calls Singla a failure who is selling projects which exist only on paper. “Show me where is the PGI satellite centre or the Panj Takht train, which was cancelled after its maiden yatra.”
“Singla is a dream- seller, while I have been with you since long. So don’t fall into the trap of the AAP or the Congress.
The Modi gover nment (NDA) is coming and the Akali Dal will get a huge share at the Centre.
Ultimately, Punjab will benefit in general and Sangrur in particular,” he says.
In every village, he mentions the atta-dal scheme and free electricity for far mers. “The Congress will stop all this, as the Captain (Amarinder Singh) did in 2005 by imposing electricity bills on farmers.”
Unlike other politicians who opt for tea or cold drink at the house of a protégé, Dhindsa shares tea with commoners, so that if someone has a grouse against anyone or even against him, he listens to it and tried to resolve it.
And this works well when some villagers whisper something in his ear and he says, “Chinta na karo, election code khatam hon deyo…. kam ho jau. (Don’t worry, wait for the model code to end. Work will be done).”
In some villages, peasants complain about problems in wheat procurement and he assures them of a solution by the evening.
Whereas he harps on Modi in the Hindu-dominated Sangrur and Barnala urban areas, he shrewdly doesn’t mention the Gujarat CM in Muslim dominated Malerkotla. Even his election office doesn’t have any picture of Modi.
His day be gins at 5 in the morning. A chat with family members over a cup of tea with biscuits.
By 6.30 am, party workers begin to gather outside his house and he comes out into the garden to meet them. Here, supporters of the AAP and the Congress joins the Shiromani Akali Dal and he offers siropas to them and requests them to have breakfast, which is open to all.
In the meantime, he quickly finishes his breakfast. And by 8.30 am, he is off on a round of the villages.
He keeps bhujje chhole (roasted chickpeas) in his car and munches them after two or three speeches. “These are meant to clear the throat,” he says while offering these to us.
During the day-long functions, he closely observes things such as display of election material.
“Our posters and flags are dotting this village, people are willing to support us as they see a Modi-led government,” he quickly remarks.