It’s more than a political battle in Amritsar (East) that will witness a fierce verbal duel for survival in this Punjab Assembly election.
Accusing Congress state President Navjot Singh Sidhu of falsely implicating him in drugs related cases, his once friend and now archrival Bikram Singh Majithia, the heavyweight former cabinet minister of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), has challenged him in his bastion after leaving his home turf Majitha for his wife Ganieve Grewal.
With Punjab going to the polls on Sunday and results slated to be out on March 10, the winner will take it all with the loser standing small.
After Sidhu, 58, dared Majithia, 46, to contest from Amritsar (East), SAD President Sukhbir Badal announced to field Majithia from there “to dismantle his arrogance”.
Sidhu campaigned aggressively for the booking Majithia in drugs case last December. Later, the Supreme Court gave Majithia protection from arrest till February 23 while observing that criminal cases are suddenly emerging out in the run-up to the Assembly elections.
Considering a Congress stronghold, Amritsar (East), the seat that came into being after 2012 delimitation, has backed Sidhu and his namesake wife since then for twice.
In 2017, the cricketer-turned-politician Sidhu not only defeated his nearest rival Rajesh Honey of the BJP with a huge margin of over 42,000 votes but also played a role of a game-changer for the party by winning 10 out of the 11 seats in Amritsar district, once the citadel of the SAD-BJP combine.
Majithia, the brother-in-law of Sukhbir Badal, has won the Majitha seat thrice — 2007, 2012 and 2017, while Sidhu is the sitting Amritsar (East) legislator.
Believing that the political life of Sidhu is coming to an end, Badal told IANS that Sidhu’s arrogance will be his undoing.
“We are determined to break Sidhu’s arrogance and teach him to love and respect his constituents. We believed it was our duty to engage him and give the people an option for development of their constituency. The Sidhu couple has ignored Amritsar East for the last 18 years. It is one of the most undeveloped constituencies in the state,” Badal told IANS in an interview.
“Now the people have been given a chance to vote for the betterment of their constituency. You have already witnessed the love and affection Bikram Majithia is getting in the constituency. This itself is an indication which way the wind is blowing,” the Ferozepur Lok Sabha member added.
Majithia has been booked by the state police under the relevant sections of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act for his alleged involvement in a drug racket.
While Sidhu, who is supposed to travel across the state being the party chief but concentrating on his bastion owing to a high-profile battle, is banking on his self-evolved ‘Punjab Model’ to retain the seat, his bAate noire Majithia is trying to woo voters by quoting his achievements in Majitha home turf, represented by him thrice.
While listing out their development works, the Sidhu couple has been chastising Majithia for charges of drugs and backing drug cartels.
His ‘Punjab Model’ is based on government-controlled production and sale of liquor and mining of sand that will help fill empty coffers and generate employment.
“Sidhu is talking about his Punjab Model. You visit his constituency and then visit my Majitha segment. You will certainly feel the ground realities in both seats. These are political buzzwords of Majithia to exhort people to vote for him to win the election.
“The fight for Amritsar (East) is a fight for the honour and respect of the people of this constituency. It is also a fight for development of this constituency. Let us take this golden opportunity by rising above caste and communal lines and support the SAD to change the fortunes of this constituency,” Majithia said in an appeal on Friday, the day the campaigning culminated.
Claiming Amritsar (East) is one of the most neglected and backward constituencies in the state, Majithia said all roads in the constituency would be repaired and re-laid and sidewalks would be constructed.
Caught between two heavyweights, greenhorns Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Jeevan Jyot Kaur and the BJP’s Jagmohan Singh Raju, a former Tamil Nadu-cadre bureaucrat, are making their presence felt in the battlefield by saying the traditional parties have disappointed and dismayed people even after repeated opportunities.
Majithia was the eye of storm when he was summoned by Enforcement Directorate in 2014 for investigating the money laundering link in the Rs 6,000 crore international synthetic drugs racket busted by the Punjab Police in 2013.
He is also facing allegations of having links with certain NRIs who have been accused of international money laundering related to the massive drugs racket.
Majithia, who is educated at the Lawrence School in Sanawar in Himachal Pradesh, retained the Majithia seat in 2017 with a margin of 22,884 votes, lower than a margin of 47,581 he had got in 2012.
Sidhu had earlier remained MP from Amritsar when he was part of the BJP. He was elected MP in 2004, 2007 (by-election) and 2009.
He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the Narendra Modi government in April 2016. He joined the Congress party just days ahead of the Assembly elections in February 2017.
In 2017 polls, the Congress had won an absolute majority by winning 77 seats in the 117-member Punjab Assembly and ousted the SAD-BJP government after 10 years.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)