Every day, independent candidate Mohinder Singh campaigns in Amritsar, the Lok Sabha constituency where the contest between the BJP’s Arun Jaitley and the Congress candidate, former Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, is being keenly watched.
Mohinder, who earns his livelihood transporting people on his cycle-rickshaw, pedals around and is grappling with the problem of providing food and accommodation for two policemen deployed as bodyguards.
He had somehow raised Rs 25,000 to file his nomination papers. He is carrying the burden of his two Punjab Police guards, quite literally. He pedals around seeking votes, one policeman perched on the rickshaw.
If he gets too tired, he asks a relative to pedal. “What can I do? Security is also required. I cannot afford a car or a motorcycle,” Mohinder explains.
He claims to have spent Rs 22,500 on his campaign till April 21. In Punjab, where 253 candidates — most of them sure to get security deposits forfeited — are contesting the 13 Lok Sabha seats, police security is considered a status symbol.
The high and the mighty often resort to various means, including court cases, to get police security.
“Many candidates, I am sure, file nominations only to get security personnel. But we cannot take any chances,” says a returning officer.
There are many who are yet to campaign. Their poll expenses indicate they have spent nothing. A namesake of Congress candidate Amarinder Singh has not spent a single paisa till April 21. He too has two guards. So have Surinder Singh and Balbir Singh.
“My wife refuses to cook for them. Every morning, I cook breakfast for them,” says a candidate who didn’t wish to be identified.
Surinder Singh, contesting on a Democratic Congress Party ticket, wants more guards. “I was seeking at least eight. I am still hopeful of two more,” says Surinder, who claims to be a registered medical practitioner and uses the prefix Dr with his name.
This is his second election — the first was in 1992. “I was provided 32 security guards when I contested in February 1992 Lok Sabha polls from Amritsar-II. Capt Amarinder Singh was nowhere to be seen as Akalis had boycotted the elections,” says Surinder.
Independent candidate Sham Lal Gandhiwadi is contesting on the kettle symbol. He has lost his security deposit four times.
Gandhiwadi is grabbing eyeballs for another reason — the daily wager campaigns on his bicycle, while two Punjab policemen follow him on motorcycle.
Whenever he wants to move out of the city, he requests one of his guards to drive him around. Living in a two-room rented accommodation in Kot Khalsa, Gandhiwadi, after campaigning for the day, spends the night in one room with the two policemen, while his wife whom he married about six months ago and his parents live in the other.
A few days ago, Gandhiwadi was moving towards Attari along with head constable Victor on the latter’s motorcycle. Asked why he was on a bike and not a bicycle and where the other cop was, Gandhiwadi’s response was: “I had to go to far-off places in rural areas, that is why the motorcycle and the other cop is not coming along as riding triple is an offence.”
Head constable Victor says sometimes they (cops) pay for food and tea they and the candidate consume since Gandhiwadi cannot afford to pay every day.