Would Jalandhar be a surprise for Cong?
A traditional Congress bastion, Jalandhar could spring a surprise for the party in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls as political greenhorn Naresh Gujral, son of former Prime Minister I K Gujral, is trying his luck on a Shiromani Akali Dal ticket against seasoned leader Rana Gurjit Singh of ruling Congress.
Congress has headaches for a number of reasons. First, Naresh got a headstart in campaigning due to early announcement of his candidature while Rana Gurjit Singh, a sitting MLA from Kapurthala, was a late entrant into the battle, though he tried to make up for the delay by working hard and visiting each and every village of the constituency.
Secondly, former Congress MP Balbir Singh joined the Shiromani Akali Dal and has been trying his best to transfer his vote bank to junior Gujral.
Thirdly, the merger of Akali Dal (Democratic) headed by Kuldip Singh Wadala with the parent party Shiromani Akali Dal led by Prakash Singh Badal came as a big boost for the latter as Wadala is a stalwart Akali politician in Punjab's Doaba region of which Jalandhar is a part.
Wadala, it may be recalled, had contested the 1999 Lok Sabha polls from here as an independent and polled over 38,000 votes which made all the difference for the defeat of SAD nominee Prabjot Kaur, widow of former Akali leader Darbara Singh, who lost to Balbir Singh by 35,000 votes.
Fourthly, BSP, with a sizeable following among Dalits of the area, has fielded its candidate Devi Dass Nahar, a move that could eat into Congress vote. When Nahar had contested in 1989, he had polled more than 71,000 votes.
While morale of Naresh Gujral and his workers was upbeat, Congress appears to be a divided house still haunted by the banner of revolt that was raised by Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal against the leadership of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh last year.
Though Rana and his party colleagues are trying to put up a show of unity, the recent spat between Congress MLA Raj Kumar Gupta and Rana Gurjit at a public meeting, triggering a virtual fight between two groups of district youth Congress office-bearers, indicated that something is amiss in the district party's rank and file.
The factionalism in certain assembly segments of the constituency is giving sleepless nights to Rana Gurjit.
As if this was not enough, Punjab Food Minister Avtar Singh Henry had a heated argument with Jalandhar Mayor Surinder Mahey in front of the Chief Minister when he was addressing a media conference on the occasion of B R Ambedkar's birth anniversary celebrations.
Although both the Congress and SAD nominees were industrialists and first timers, Naresh is seeking to cash in on the image of his father who had represented the constituency in 1989 and 1998.
Among the major issues raised in the campaigning by both the parties is the one relating to the controversy about the Centre's waiving of loan worth Rs 8500 crore, taken by Punjab government during militancy years, when Naresh's father was the Prime Minister.
While senior Gujral maintained that the loan was waived by him, the Chief Minister termed the statement as "incorrect" and even published the correspondence between the Centre and the state on the issue in the form of advertisments seeking to buttress the claim that the loan was never waived.
Rana, who owns sugar mills, emphasizes on eradication of unemployment and has promised installation of another sugar mill to generate employment.
Naresh's main poll plank is to fulfill the dream projects of his father like Science City and Domoria bridge which connects two parts of the city, besides turning the constituency in to an education and tourism hub.
The constituency, which has 11,42,090 strong electorate, comprising 5,88,768 male and 5,53,322 female votes, has shown declining trend of poll turn out for the last three elections.