Admitting that it would have been a “cakewalk” for its candidate Arun Jaitley but for Singh, who has rejuvenated the faction-ridden district unit of Congress, local BJP leaders say the former CM may also get the benefit of being a Jat Sikh.
About 45 per cent of the voters in this Lok Sabha seat, with nine assembly constituencies, are in rural areas. Sixty four per cent of the 15 lakh voters are Sikhs. “Earlier, it would have been a cakewalk for Jaitley. Morale of Congress workers was low. They were not united. But now things have changed. Captain will give us a tough fight,” said a local BJP leader.
The 72-year-old Singh, the titular Maharaja of Patiala, on Friday put on a mighty show as he began his campaign in this holy city.
On March 18, Jaitley (61), a successful advocate and an effective orator, too, had held a massive road show.
“Amarinder will give us a good fight, but we know our cadre is strong and enthusiastic enough to win the seat for BJP,” state BJP Vice-President Rajendermohan Singh Chhina said. He said SAD, the BJP’s alliance partner, has a huge support base in rural areas which should go in Jaitley’s favour in his maiden bid to the enter the Lok Sabha. BJP is also counting on small parties to “eat” into Congress’ vote share.
“Captain Amarinder is a very strong and a lovable leader. Our cadre has been revitalised. Congress workers are full of energy and united they will defeat BJP in Amritsar,” said Gurjit Singh Aujla, District President (rural) of Congress. While a large number of voters consider both Jaitley and Singh as outsiders and “inaccessible”, BJP leaders admit that the Congress candidate may get the Jat-Sikh benefit.
The SAD-BJP alliance is ruling the state for the second term in a row. Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal too has plans to extensively canvass for Jaitley. BJP leaders also expect Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to hold a rally here, a move which would further galvanise party workers.
The record of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, the sitting BJP MP, is not expected to help Jaitley much. Besides, the three-term BJP MP from Amritsar had an uneasy relationship with ally Shiromani Akali Dal. In 2009, Sidhu had polled 3,92,046 votes, or 31.59 per cent, defeating Om Parkash Soni of Congress by a thin margin of about 6,900 votes. The electorate of Amritsar and Punjab will go to vote for the Lok Sabha elections on April 30.