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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

For Bittu, a fight for Beant Singh’s lingering legacy – and against it

He first won Lok Sabha polls from Anandpur Sahib in 2009 and then from Ludhiana in 2014. In 2017, Bittu contested Punjab assembly polls from Jalalabad constituency against then deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal and state AAP chief Bhagwant Mann.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana | Updated: April 26, 2019 11:10:17 pm
Congress candidate Ravneet Singh Bittu on his way to file nomination papers in Ludhiana on Thursday. (Express Photo by Gurmeet Singh)

Just 11 when his father died of a cardiac arrest and 20 when his grandfather, former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, was assassinated by Babbar Khalsa militants, politics was never the first choice for Ravneet Singh Bittu, who had initially opened a cement production unit in Ludhiana’s Lalru village.

It was a meeting with Congress president Rahul Gandhi in 2007 that paved his entry into politics. “Rahul Gandhi had become general secretary of Indian Youth Congress (IYC) and I had gone to congratulate him. He told me not to let my grandfather’s legacy and sacrifice go waste. He told me to join active politics. He could understand because we both shared the pain of losing our family members,” says Bittu, who was elected as Punjab Youth Congress chief in 2008 when he was 33 years old. Much water has flown through Sutlej and Bittu is now looking for a third term in Lok Sabha and second from Ludhiana.

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He first won Lok Sabha polls from Anandpur Sahib in 2009 and then from Ludhiana in 2014. In 2017, Bittu contested Punjab assembly polls from Jalalabad constituency against then deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal and state AAP chief Bhagwant Mann. Bittu stood third. Speaking to The Indian Express, Bittu says that his grandfather’s legacy can never be ignored. but then “name of Beant Singh is also not a magic that will rain votes for me every single time.”

“He was a martyr. He sacrificed his life to bring peace in Punjab. Which other political leader did that? Like Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev sacrificed their lives for our country, so did my grandfather for Punjab’s peace. The contribution of my grandfather’s legacy in my political career cannot be ignored or forgotten, it is here to stay forever. Par Beant Singh Ji ka naam koi jadoo thodi hai, ki bas naam lo aur vote pad jayegi (His name is not a magic that it will rain votes for me every single time),” says Bittu.

His critics often accuse Beant Singh of indulging in mass fake encounters during militancy in Punjab. But Bittu says that it was only because of his grandfather’s sacrifice that today “people like Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal” are able to contest polls and rule Punjab.

“During militancy, these people (Badals) had run away and even refused to contest elections. It was my grandfather who fought from the front. It is because of his sacrifice that peace returned, militancy was wiped out,” says Bittu, whose ancestral village is Kotla Afghana (Kotli) in Ludhiana.

Beant Singh’s traditional seat was Payal in Ludhiana but he had contested his last polls in 1992 from Jalandhar Cantt. In his five years as Ludhiana MP, Bittu had his share of criticism, especially after his paternal uncle Sukhwant Singh’s son Guriqbal Singh Honey was appointed as Deputy Superintendent in Punjab Police, allegedly on compassionate grounds. “There is nothing to say on this. He is my cousin and no rules were tweaked,” says Bittu.

On Thursday, as Bittu filed his nomination papers, arriving in his grandfather’s 1985-model White Ambassador, Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh was missing. “It was more important for him to go to Bathinda with (party candidate) Amarinder Raja Warring. Captain saab has done a lot for me. My ticket from Ludhiana was announced in the first batch. There is nothing more to read into his absence,” said Bittu. Asked about his achievements and works in Ludhiana, says, “I was an opposition MP. BJP led NDA government and PM Narendra Modi completely ignored Ludhiana and in fact entire Punjab for five years, but still, I got four major works done for Ludhiana”. Among his major achievements, he says, “Ludhiana was among the first batch of 20 cities in the country and the only from Punjab selected to be developed as Smart Cities. I got an international airport terminal approved at Halwara. City’s lifeline Jagraon bridge needed immediate repair and I got Rs 26 crore approved. Two new government colleges, an exhibition centre for industrialists and smart schools also came up.”

On why not a single Smart City project could be completed despite Ludhiana being in the first list in 2016, he says, “It is because of dirty politics being played by the BJP. Otherwise, it involves an investment of Rs 5,000 crore. I agree that projects have been delayed.” Bittu enjoys the image of being an accessible MP and is often seen at local gatherings but is also criticized for tagging along with Ludhiana west MLA Bharat Bhushan Ashu, whose name recently cropped up in an alleged CLU scam. “All allegations against Ashu are politically motivated. Yes, he is my good friend but all MLAs are equal for me.” Ludhiana’s senior-most six-time MLA Rakesh Pandey also applied for a ticket from Ludhiana and criticized Bittu openly but after getting a ticket, Bittu went to his place and pacified him by touching his feet.

Intertwined, his family and politics

-Former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh had five children — three sons — Tej Prakash Singh, Swaranjit Singh and Sukhwant Singh and two daughters — Gurkanwal Kaur and Manjit Kaur.

-Tej Prakash Singh is former Punjab minister whose son Gurkirat Kotli is sitting Congress MLA from Khanna. Gurkirat’s younger brother Harkirat Singh allegedly shot himself dead in 2016.

-Gurkanwal Kaur is also former Punjab minister but is not active in politics now.

-Sukhwant Singh was zila parishad chairman and Manjit Kaur never entered politics. Sukhwant’s son Guriqbal Singh Honey is DSP in Punjab Police.

-Swaranjit Singh died of a cardiac arrest whose son is Ravneet Singh Bittu. He has a sister Apandeep Kaur who is not in politics.

-Bittu’s wife Anupama Jhajj filed as covering candidate for him. His mother Jasbir Kaur is also campaigning for him.

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