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'Outsider' tag bothers star candidates in Punjab

"Outsider" is the last word they want to hear but several high-profile candidates in the Lok Sabha elections from different political parties in Punjab are trying to overcome this tag.
PTI | By Jaideep Sarin,IANS Service, Chandigarh
PUBLISHED ON APR 27, 2004 08:58 PM IST

"Outsider" is the last word they want to hear but several high-profile candidates in the Lok Sabha elections from different political parties in Punjab are trying to overcome this tag.

Nearly half a dozen candidates in Punjab's 13 Lok Sabha seats face this tag. They are trying every bit to wear it off as their campaign gets into top gear for the May 10 polls.

All the outsiders, while filing their nomination papers, put on a massive display of strength in an attempt to prove wrong those who had given them the tag.

Former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu is trying to win over hearts in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, where he is contesting on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket.

Hardly a week old in campaigning and full-time politics, Sidhu has been labelled an "outsider" by his Congress opponents and upset BJP leaders.

But the forthright Sikh is not giving up without a fight. His irritation is evident as soon as the word is mentioned to him.

"I want Amritsar to make me part of its joy and sorrow. If people give me the mandate, I will shift to Amritsar permanently and not go to my hometown Patiala. Not even to attend death ceremonies," he said.

Sidhu also finds solace in introducing himself as an Indian first and then a Punjabi.

He takes on a formidable opponent in Raghunandan Lal Bhatia, a six-time Congress MP from Amritsar.

But Bhatia's age of 85 might go against him. Sidhu, 41, had just joined school when Bhatia became an MP.

The BJP candidate from the neighbouring Gurdaspur, Vinod Khanna, has represented the seat for six years but the "outsider" tag still follows him, mainly because he still does not have a house in his constituency.

Khanna's inaccessibility and infrequent trips to this backward constituency too have gone against him. The going this time for the winner in the 1998 and 1999 polls will be tough against Congress's Sukhbans Kaur Bhinder.

The Congress candidate from Ludhiana, Manish Tiwari, too has to prove his "local" credentials, as opponents and even party dissidents have tried to project an "outsider" image for him.

A former All-India Youth Congress chief, Tiwari's father was a Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab in the early 1980's before being killed by Sikh terrorists.

Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, Tiwari's opponent from the Lok Bhalai Party, too has contested from other seats in Punjab before coming to Ludhiana.

Former prime minister I.K. Gujral's son Naresh Gujral is plagued by the "outsider" tag as he operates from a posh hotel in Jalandhar for contesting the seat on the Akali Dal ticket.

The tag haunts him, though his father earlier represented the seat.

Though belonging to the area, Congress candidate Karan Brar, daughter-in-law of former chief minister Harcharan Singh Brar, is being dubbed an "outsider" by her Akali opponent Sukhbir Badal.

"She is here on a picnic for 15-20 days and will go back to settle in Delhi," a confident Sukhbir said.

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