Five years after an “aam aadmi” and a cardiologist stunned the “maharani” of the erstwhile princely state of Patiala, Preneet Kaur (74), in an electoral battle, a lot has changed for MP Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, who is set to take her on for the second time from Patiala.
Former Minister of State for External Affairs and wife of Capt Amarinder Singh, Preneet Kaur had represented Patiala three times in the Lok Sabha before tasting defeat at the hands of Gandhi, who won by a margin of 20,900 votes.
In 2014, Gandhi (68) was with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), but this time the broom (AAP’s poll symbol) has been replaced by a ‘mic’ — the symbol of his new party, the ‘Nawan Punjab Party’. The NPP is fighting the election in an alliance partner of Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA).
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During the 2014 Lok Sabha election, out of the nine assembly segments, Gandhi had won four (Nabha, Patiala (Rural), Sanour, Shutrana) while Kaur won three (Patiala (Urban), Rajpura, Samana) and rest two (Ghanaur, Dera Bassi) were won by SAD candidate Deepinder Singh Dhillon.
However, in August 2015, Gandhi was suspended by AAP for ‘anti-party activities’ along with Fatehgarh Sahib MP Harinder Singh Khalsa, who has now joined BJP. Both MPs were suspended for questioning action taken against then AAP leader Yogendra Yadav and then attending a parallel rally at Rakhra Punia organised by rebel group of AAP volunteers.
After its 2014 high, the AAP wave almost completely vanished from Patiala and the party faced humiliating defeat in the area during Punjab assembly polls in 2017. Of nine assembly segments, it failed to win even a single one. Currently, it is an all Congress show in Patiala with party having seven MLAs while rest two being from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). For Congress, Patiala is currently a constituency with high stakes for 2019 Lok Sabha polls as while the Chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh is the sitting MLA from Patiala (Urban), his two Cabinet ministers — Brahm Mohindra and Sadhu Singh Dharamsot — are MLAs from Patiala (Rural) and Nabha, respectively.
But the signs of AAP slide in Patiala were visible immediately after 2014 polls as Preneet Kaur, soon after her loss to Gandhi, won the Assembly bypoll in August 2014 from Patiala (Urban) constituency, a seat that was vacated by her husband Capt Amarinder Singh who contested and won Lok Sabha polls 2014 from Amritsar. She got more than 52,000 votes and SAD candidate Bhagwan Dass Juneja got more than 29,000, but AAP candidate Harjit Singh Adalatiwala got mere 5,700 votes.
In 2017 Punjab Assembly polls, Preneet Kaur vacated Patiala (Urban) seat for Capt Amarinder Singh who went on to win and become CM.
Set to take on Preneet Kaur again from her bastion, Gandhi has already hit the roads with a campaign “Aawaz Uthao Muhim” (Raise Your Voice). SAD leader and former minister Surjit Singh Rakhra is the other candidate in the contest.
Gandhi believes that work done by him in five years and his own image of an ‘honest and simple’ man is going to make him victorious again.
Speaking to The Indian Express, he said, “Earlier people knew me as a doctor but now they know me as an honest politician who has worked for his constituency in five years. Not having AAP tag is not going to make much difference. In 141 villages, we have ended caste-based cremation grounds practice and built common cremation ground with a board that it is open for all — Dalits and non-Dalits. No other MP has ever taken such initiative to end such taboos. Then, I have spent 60 per cent of MPLAD funds (Rs 13.5 crore of 20 crore) on providing toilets, benches and RO water systems in government schools. I have raised my voice for opium addicts….I also stood for river water rights of Punjab. I also got projects worth Rs 1,700 crore from railways for Patiala.”
Gandhi says that his campaign ‘Aawaz Uthao Muhim’ (Raise Your Voice) is a people-centric movement. “Now this mic is that of people…I will take this mic to the poorest and raise their issues in Lok Sabha as I did for five years,” he said.
AAP struggles to fill Gandhi’s shoes
Meanwhile, for AAP which sent four MPs to Lok Sabha from Punjab in 2014, the party is currently struggling to find a suitable face from Patiala to contest against veterans like Gandhi, Preneet Kaur and Rakhra and it is proving to be an uphill task for the party to fill Gandhi’s shoes.
‘AAP finished in Patiala, Capt exposed’
SAD veteran leader Surjit Singh Rakhra (68), a two-time MLA from Samana and former Cabinet minister, said that AAP has vanished in thin air in Punjab and this time SAD is going to make comeback in Patiala as Capt Amarinder Singh has been exposed due to his hollow promises.
“AAP has been running on pure self-centered politics where each leader of theirs is bothered just about his own chair and position. They only for their own self-interests. So, AAP is nowhere in Patiala this time. SAD is going to make a comeback as Captain won in 2017 on basis of hollow promises and Congress now stands exposed,” says Rakhra, adding that he started campaigning almost a month back and has already toured entire constituency once. Rakhra had contested Lok Sabha polls in 1999 from Patiala but had lost to Preneet Kaur.
‘Gandhi’s work not close to what I did for Patiala’
Preneet Kaur, whose ticket from Patiala was announced by Congress Tuesday late, said that “it is fine that he (Dr Gandhi) has done his job as MP but it is nowhere comparable and close to what I did for Patiala in my three tenures”.
“AAP was a new idea that worked in 2014 but this time it is not going to. It is a divided house that has been exposed…..Among my achievements are Footwear Design Institute at Banur in Rajpura which will employ at least 1,000 youths and a multi-specialty Rajindra Hospital. As Union minister, I have worked for Sikh diaspora and got Permanent Residency (PR) for at least 18,000 families. I cannot say if it will be Gandhi or Rakhra who will finish second but we will win Patiala,” she said.