Surrounded by fields of wheat ready to be harvested, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal at a well-attended rally in rural Anjala on Wednesday asked farmers to vote for the BJP’s Amritsar candidate, Arun Jaitley, as it was a question of Badal’s personal prestige. “We may get our heads cut, but we stand by friends,” Badal, 86, thundered.
Launching scathing political attacks on rival Congress candidate Capt Amarinder Singh and party president Sonia Gandhi, Badal sent a blunt message to all his satraps to sink their differences as Jaitley was his man. A fired-up Jaitley promised to develop Amritsar’s infrastructure and tourism if the NDA was voted to power.
Even though the electoral contest between Jaitley and Amarinder is tight yet fascinating, things have started improving for the top BJP leader with heavy political artillery in the form of the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, deputy cm Punjab Sukhbir Badal and former army chief General VK Singh slated to campaign next week. Already, Delhi BJP MLAs with a large number of their supporters have landed up in Amritsar to recapture the heart of the holy city from the Congress for Jaitley, overriding the anti-incumbency against the state government and sitting BJP legislators.
The BJP-Akali Dal strategy is to capture maximum votes from rural Amritsar to offset any reverses in the urban areas. The BJP has also factored in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate, eye surgeon Dr Daljit Singh, who is expected to pick up a decent vote from the city and cut into both mainstream parties.
The Congress strategy is to build on the state anti-incumbency, woo the Sikh voter on Amarinder’s turban and keep the election pitched on local issues rather than Jaitley’s national pitch. But the powerful state revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia, who is personally handling the campaign of Jaitley from the Akali side, said, “The situation is improving by the day for us. Captain Amarinder is an absentee and a non-serious politician. Amritsar will vote for Jaitley as the Congress under Sonia Gandhi and the UPA-2 under Manmohan Singh have done nothing for border areas despite promises galore.”
Jaitley, on his part, is now confident to take on the Congress with a latest survey of the party showing him in the lead. He is further picking up pace by matching his Akali partners in electoral energy, though without personal barbs on his Congress rival. “This election is for 2014 Lok Sabha and not the municipality. The issues are revival of economy and infrastructure of Amritsar, Punjab and India through allround development,” Jaitley said.
Pumped up by Badal, Akalis have started optimising in rural segments. Further helped by SAD’s Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral and party treasurer Piyush Goel, Jaitley is now looking towards his friend, Gujarat CM Modi, to consolidate the urban voter, particularly in Amritsar East, West and Central segments, and making the election here into a PM Modi-versus-Amarinder Singh fight. This was evident when college students of a private university on Amritsar’s outskirts erupted into pro-Modi slogans before Jaitley.