The election to this Assembly seat remains the most keenly watched ever since three-time former BJP MP from Amritsar seat Navjot Singh Sidhu jumped into the fray as a Congress candidate, claiming that his mission is to “save Punjab” and oust the ruling Badals who “looted” the state.
53-year-old Sidhu’s entry has overshadowed other contestants who are in the race for this seat, including Rajesh Kumar Honey (41), the district president of BJP and a councillor of the party. Honey first won the municipal corporation election in 2007 and then again in 2012.
Among the 15 candidates, including five Independents, who in the fray, Sarabjot Singh is contesting from AAP, Tarsem Singh from BSP and Baldev Singh from CPI.
Amritsar East, which was arved out of Amritsar North in 2012, has 1,52,413 voters, including 81,240 men and 71,173 women.
Like most other candidates fighting from other segments of holy city Amritsar which is in the grip of severe cold conditions these days, Sidhu enthrals the public with his one-liners and ‘Sidhuisms’.
Making his debut in Congress, Sidhu in his characteristic boisterous manner sends out his war cry against the ruling Badals in his poll rallies, which he holds not just in Amritsar-East, but all across Amritsar parliamentary segment, saying “Bhaag, Badal Bhaag, kursi khali kar (run Badal, run. Leave the chair)”.
Sidhu is fighting from the Amritsar East seat which was earlier held by his wife Navjot Kaur, who had switched over from BJP and joined Congress a few weeks ahead of him.
Navjot Kaur had defeated Simarpreet Kaur, an Independent candidate, by a margin of over 7,000 votes from here in the last elections.
Mandeep Manna was a ticket aspirant from Congress this time but the seat was given to Sidhu after he joined the party.
While Navjot Kaur is currently doing most of the campaigning in Amritsar East seat, Sidhu is devoting more time in various assembly segments of Amritsar, nine of which constitute the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, bypolls for which will be held simultaneously along with Assembly polls on February 4.
Rajinder Mohan Singh Chhina, Sidhu’s archrival from his erstwhile party BJP, is contesting the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat this time.
Having shifted base from Patiala to Amritsar to fight his first election in 2004, over the years Amritsar has remained his stronghold. Sidhu had remained the BJP MP from Amritsar LS constituency, winning the seat in 2004, 2007 (by-election) and 2009. He was also a Rajya Sabha MP for a brief period.
On the day of filing his nomination papers from here,
Sidhu went to the house of veteran Congress leader R L Bhatia (95) and sought his blessings. Sidhu, who was then in BJP and contesting his first election, had trounced Bhatia, then six-time MP from Amritsar LS constituency, in 2004.
While Punjab Congress President Amarinder Singh has said Sidhu is a “foot soldier” of the party who has joined without any condition, Sidhu says he will be a “Congress soldier” and his mission is to ensure “redemption of Punjab from Badal family’s misrule and drug menace”.
“I want to restore the pride of Punjab for which I have to fight being a part of its system,” he says.
Sidhu has maintained that he left BJP as it “chose alliance” with Akali Dal while “I chose Punjab”.
Sidhu’s wife Navjot Kaur says “our fight is for Punjab”.
“They (Akalis) have destroyed Punjab and taken it backwards. We have not come here to become leaders but we will sit with people and frame policies for their welfare,” she says.
Undeterred by the tough challenge, Rajesh Honey says, “I have been a worker of BJP for many years. I will go into the poll arena with the ideology and policies of my party. It doesn’t matter who I’m facing in these elections. I will give a tough contest and emerge victorious.”
Although, AAP’s Sarabjot Singh (36) is not a very familiar face in the constituency, he is confident of defeating his rivals.
“I’m contesting for change and for a better society. So, I don’t care who I’m up against,” he says.
Sidhu, who quit as BJP Rajya Sabha MP last July, flirted briefly with Aam Aadmi Party before floating his own front, Awaaz-e-Punjab, with hockey Olympian Pargat Singh and Bains brothers of Ludhiana in September last year. But the front fell apart as the Bains brothers joined Arvind Kejriwal’s party.
Opponents accuse Sidhu of “missing” from Amritsar after becoming a part of the popular TV show ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’ and now ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’.
Sidhu, who is Congress’ star campaigner, will be campaigning in other parts of Punjab in the coming days. He is currently actively campaigning all across Amritsar in favour of his party candidates.
With BJP and even ally SAD sending its top leadership to Amritsar, a border district of the state, including Union Minister Arun Jaitley and SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, attempts will be made to counter Sidhu who enjoys clout here across various Assembly segments.
Sidhu, who had as BJP leader, accused the Akalis of scuttling his projects for Amritsar, appeals to people to vote out the ruling Badals.