For two-time Congress MLA and party candidate from SAS Nagar Balbir Sidhu (56), the Tuesday morning fog that envelops villages in the constituency is hardly a deterrent from reaching out to voters in the last leg of campaign for the Punjab assembly elections.
Sidhu, once elected from the Kharar segment, woke up at 4:30am and went out for a walk in Phase 7, SAS Nagar, locality where he lives. Then he held meetings with his team, party workers and supporters besides his family members to discuss his schedule for the day and has his breakfast around 8am.
Now, he prepares to visit villages in the surrounding area of the international airport. “Sometimes, I go out all by myself to interact with people living close by. That’s how one gets the pulse of people,” Sidhu says as he sits in his car followed by three vehicles with members of his extended family part of the cavalcade.
As soon as the cavalcade reaches Manakpur Kallar village on the Dairi-Banur road, the vicinity is dotted with flags carrying ‘hand’, the Congress symbol, while the elderly and youngsters are waiting to welcome their sitting legislator.
Sidhu personally knows several locals, many of whom, especially the youngsters, wait to seek his blessings. With folded hands, he greets whoever comes his way.
They raise slogans in his favour. Since Sidhu was in the opposition for two consecutive terms and the kind of rapport he enjoys at the grassroots level in the constituency, he does not draw much criticism for lack of development in area. He is confident of a positive election outcome. His frequent references to the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)’s inabilty to perform in the state get him a lot of response at the public meeting. He emphasizes upon eradicating the drug menace, youth employment, ensuring adequate health facilities, getting more EWS housing and waiving of agriculture debt.
He is known for attending cremations and bhog functions whether or not he knows the person or the family.
He is also popular among village womenfolk. They say he would regularly distribute clothes to the unmarried girls on Raksha Bandhan besides shoes and uniform to schoolchildren.
An 80-year-old at Manakpur village in SAS Nagar said, “Unlike many other politicians, he answers his mobile phone himself mostly. He has always been there in time of grief.”
“Although he left his studies midway, he has actually proved that you need to have compassion to work with and for people,” said Rajbala, 30, a local resident.
But there are some who disagree. They talk about a lack of concern for primary schools in the villages and want their representative to build more high schools in the area.
Gurnam Kaur, 55, says, “There is no dispensary in some villages here. One has to walk miles to get medicines.”
Then there are some youngsters who are looking for change as they feel the parties in power have failed to address their problems.
“The inadequate sewerage has always been a concern. All other villages have gymnasiums now. I think the MLA should look at these things too,” says Rajbir Singh (29).