With the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) fielding former army chief Gen JJ Singh (retd) against Punjab Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh from Patiala in the state polls to be held on February 4, the ex-servicemen stand divided in the constituency.
While some are accusing Gen Singh of “lowering the prestige of the post of an army general”, there are many who are set to join his campaign.
The All India Ex-Servicemen Joint Action Front (Sanjha Morcha) on Sunday lambasted Gen Singh, also for his comments against Amarinder.
“The general has not only downgraded the status of a former chief of army staff (COAS) but also disgraced the high office of governor (a post he held in Arunachal Pradesh),” said retired Lt Generals JS Dhaliwal, SS Brar and KS Dogra; and Maj Gen SPS Grewal (retd).
“If at all he wanted to contest polls, he should have done that for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, instead of downgrading himself to the level of assembly elections,” said Dhaliwal.
Brig Devinder Singh Grewal (retd) went further: “When he was made army chief, the media underlined that he was the first Sikh to hold the post. But Gen JJ Singh said, ‘I am Maratha’, as his regiment was Maratha Light Infantry. Why has he come to Punjab to contest polls? He should go to Maharashtra. He has no connection with Patiala. Amarinder is here and often meets ex-servicemen.”
Gen Singh, who has cited family connections and childhood days in Patiala for a local connect, hit back, saying, “Some ex-servicemen with vested interests, and motivated by Capt Amarinder, are hitting below the belt. They are afraid of my popularity.”
“Does having held the rank of COAS stop you from serving the nation through politics?,” he asked, and added, “Amarinder never faced a bullet in his three years in the army, while I led from the front in all important operations.”
Many of his ex-colleagues have started coming to Patiala to campaign. Lt Gen Jagdish Singh Dhillon (retd), under whom JJ Singh once served, said, “I will certainly campaign in Patiala as JJ remained my junior in the army. I am here to support him.”
“There can’t be double standards. Another former army chief, Gen VK Singh (retd), also contested elections. Why the objection against Gen Singh? It’s his personal choice,” he said.
Brig Ramesh Bhatia (retd), a batchmate, is among those who has come to native Punjab from Dehradun to support Gen Singh. “Many of my colleagues are coming to give a befitting reply to Amarinder in the polls,” said Gen Singh.
Ex-servicemen matter not only in terms of population but also perception in Patiala, which has a cantonment with nearly 5,000 votes. Add to that, around 6,500 votes of serving soldiers and ex-servicemen, who have been known to vote for Amarinder and his clan in the past. Patiala in all has 1.5 lakh votes.