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Monday, Oct 21, 2019

In Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, it’s Congress’ Aujla vs BJP’s Puri in a prestige battle

In the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, though Congress seems to have taken a lead over the BJP in campaigning, it is battling anti-incumbency while the saffron party harping on ‘Modi factor’ to turn tide in its favour.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: May 12, 2019 11:25 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Amritsar
Gurjeet Aujla (left) of the Congress is pitted against  Hardeep Puri of the BJP in the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat.
Gurjeet Aujla (left) of the Congress is pitted against Hardeep Puri of the BJP in the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat. (Agencies)

It’s a low-key battle this time for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat where the Congress appears to have taken a lead over the Bharatiya Janata Party in campaigning, as the latter is largely banking upon the ‘Modi factor’. The seat has a direct fight between ‘outsider’ former diplomat-turned-politician Union minister Hardeep Puri and ‘son of the soil’ sitting MP Gurjeet Aujla of the Congress.

Voting in Punjab will be held on May 19 in the seventh and last phase of Lok Sabha elections.

Aujla is trying to cash in on his local connect, terming his opponent as a migratory bird; and Puri is harping on the Modi factor and the central ministry he holds.

Contrary to the 2014 polls, when the seat witnessed a fierce battle between Captain Amarinder Singh (Congress) and Union finance minister Arun Jaitley (BJP), which the later lost by a margin of over one-lakh votes, this time, the ‘X-factor’ is missing as the candidates are comparatively low-profile.

Read | Amritsar set for rare Sikh versus Sikh contest again

Union minister for urban development Hardeep Puri is yet to get acquainted with the narrow lanes of the walled city that houses ‘Golden Temple’ and tourist destinations like Jallianwala Bagh and Attari-Wagha joint check post.

But Puri connects smartly with the people. In rural areas, Puri not only projects himself as a ‘powerful minister’ in Modi government who is capable of bringing mega-projects to the area, but also narrates his contribution to save the ‘pride of the turban of the Sikhs’ as a diplomat.

“When I was posted in the US in 2010, I was asked either to remove my turban at a local airport for security check or allowing search without removing it. But I resisted strongly. They threatened me that I may miss my flight but I told them categorically that they may hold me back on the airport for hours but will not allow anyone to search it,” said Puri.

“I made them to talk to their seniors and it was my stand not to allow US security personnel to touch my turban that forced the US authorities to change their policy,” he said in his address at a rally in Sikh-dominated Majitha segment. Modi government’s achievement to ensure punishment to Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in the 1984 riots case and opening up of Kartarpur corridor also figure in his speech.

In urban areas dominated by Hindu voters, his speech focuses on development of Amritsar city, national security and Modi.

“You all know, Modi is again going to form the next government and if you elect me, as a Union minister, I will change the entire city,” he told a gathering in Jalandhar North.

Puri is an urban Sikh and there are 80,000 voters are of his ilk in the city area. In 1999, the BJP had fielded an urban Sikh Dyal Singh Sodhi from the seat and the experiment worked in its favour.


Congress dubs Puri ‘migratory bird’

Aujla, who is a Jat-Sikh fits well in the caste calculations for the seat. He claims himself to be a ‘son-of-the-soil’ while terming Puri as an ‘outsider’. “As an MP, I have fought hard to start flights from Amritsar airport and have continuously raised your voice inside the Parliament. On the other side, the BJP has given a ticket to migratory bird who will fly away. Puri saab will not be seen after May 19,” he said.

The Congress, apparently, has a natural advantage as out of total nine assembly segments that fall under the Lok Sabha segment, the party has eight MLAs. However, anti-incumbency against the sitting MLAs and the state government among the voters is palpable.

“We overwhelmingly voted for the Congress in 2017 assembly polls but they have disappointed us,” Anil Kumar, a shopkeeper in Katra-Ahluwalia area of Central segment said. Local bodies minister Navjot Sidhu, who represents North segment, is yet to visit the area since the declaration of the Lok Sabha polls.

Problems aplenty for the BJP

Puri’s outsider tag is not the only problem the party faces in the segment. Majority of its leaders, barring Anil Joshi, are considered ‘paper tigers’. Whereas, the style of functioning of state BJP chief Shwait Malik is under question from party’s rank and file. Party’s national secretary Tarun Chugh is yet to spare time for Amritsar Central segment, which he had contested in the last two polls.

‘Modi factor’ seems to be only hope for the party in the present scenario, especially among the Hindu voters.

The absence of SAD’s main leaders from the seat has added to the worries of the party and there is complete leadership void in some segments. Bikram Majithia, who had always ensured good lead for the alliance candidate in past four polls from his segment Majitha, is not able to devote full time for the segment as he is busy managing polls for his sister, Union minister Harsimrat Kaur in Bathinda.

First Published: May 12, 2019 11:25 IST

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