The electoral battle in Patiala is between a "Maharani Sahiba" out to uphold prestige of royal family and husband-CM Amarinder Singh.
The electoral battle in prestigious Patiala parliamentary constituency of Punjab is between a "Maharani Sahiba" out to uphold the prestige of royal family and husband-Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on one side and a seasoned politician at the make-or-break point of his career.
The political landscape of the state has changed since the Chief Minister's wife Preneet Kaur, "Maharani Sahiba" as she is popularly known here, won this seat in 1999 Lok Sabha polls capitalising on a divided Shiromani Akali Dal when its Chief Prakash Singh Badal was at loggerheads with late G S Tohra.
The election to this seat on forthcoming May ten assumes significance due to the void created by the death of Tohra and it may decide who will be the most important leader from Patiala constituency after him.
Preneet Kaur, seeking re-election on Congress ticket, and SAD candidate and former Finance Minister Capt Kanwaljit Singh, both enjoy a "clean image" in the constituency spread over Banur, Ghanaur, Dakala, Patiala, Samana, Shatrana, Rajpura, Sunam and Lehra Gagga assembly segments.
Trumpeting her achievements before a total of 14,24,320 voters, Preneet Kaur is claiming credit for bringing in NABARD sponsored Rs 148 crore project for channelising the Ghaggar river which causes massive damage to crops by overflowing during the monsoon.
"I dealt with the problems caused by the Ghaggar and money started flowing only after Central Water Commission gave a No-Objection Certificate. The first instalment of Rs 33 crore had come and another Rs 65 crore will come shortly. The project will be completed within three years," she told a visiting PTI correspondent on the sidelines of her public meeting in Lehra Gagga assembly segment.
"Once the project is complete, the Ghaggar, which causes havoc during monsoons in around 300 villages falling in Ghanaur and Lehra Gagga assembly segments, will be tamed with the embankments, check dams, drains and canals," she adds.
However, if Preneet has developmental projects to her credit, she has to reckon two problems also. One is the presence of BSP candidate Hargopal Singh Kashyap who can cut into Dalit votes of Congress.
The second and a bigger handicap for her is the absence of Deputy Chief Minister and Congress stalwart Rajinder Kaur Bhattal - who had not too long ago demanded removal of Amarinder Singh from chief ministership - from "Maharani Sahiba's" campaign.
Bhattal's absence is all the more glaring as she is an MLA from Lehra Gagga which falls in Patiala parliamentary constituency.
"She (Bhattal) has said that she would campaign for me. However, she can not give time presently due to a pending court case against her," Preneet said.
Bhattal's absence from the electioneering is making an impact as she is in a position to influence significant sections of voters. Amarinder Singh camp knows too well that Bhattal's support could be crucial for the outcome of Preneet's fight against united Akalis.
Congress workers at Lehra Gagga admit Bhattal's entry into electioneering for Preneet would certainly improve the prospects of Amarinder's wife.
Bhattal said she was busy with campaigning for party candidates within the state.
Another headache for Congress is that Rajpura assembly seat under Patiala Lok Sabha constituenty is held by Raj Khurana, a known loyalist of Bhattal and a vocal critic of Preneet.
However, in Ghanaur assembly, held by Public Health Minister Jasjit Singh Randhawa, and in Patiala and Dakala constituencies represented by the Chief Minister and Finance Minister Lal Singh respectively, Preneet has a definite edge.
Weight was added to Preneet's campaign after former SAD MPs Charanjit Singh Walia and Prem Singh Chandumajra and SAD circle Jathedar Rajinder Tohra deserted their party to join Congress.
The outcome of the poll for Patalaia may well make or mar 61-year-old Capt Kanwaljit Singh's political career. He is a strong contendor for the number two post in the SAD echelons of power.
"Kanwaljit Singh's win will consolidate his political fortune and promote his image as a leader of masses," his supporters say.
Hoping to storm the Congress citadel on the hometown of the Chief Minister, Kanwaljit Singh said "I found widespread resentment among people against Preneet."
Talking to this correspondent during his campaign trail, he said he was seeking mandate against alleged non-performance of Congress in Punjab and non-fullfillment of pre-election promises by Amarinder Singh government.
"I am asking people to vote for progress, stability and peace which are there in NDA regime under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee," he said.
"People are also sore over inaccessibility of Preneet and her poor performance in protecting Punjab's interest in Parliament," Singh alleged.
Rejecting Singh's charge, Preneet says "on inaccessibilty he (Singh) is speaking untruth. I have been working for ten hours a day. I did not speak in Parliament because I spent more time in my constituency to help people."
"Development during my tenure as MP is visible," she said claiming most of the party MLAs from the constituency are backing her.