A fierce electoral battle is being fought on the plains of Patiala where a former Army chief is crossing swords with an ex-Captain who seeks to retain his hold over the land whose destiny was determined by his forefathers. Patiala is the pocket borough of Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh, who has been declared the party’s chief ministerial candidate, and this time his opponent is Gen (retd) J J Singh of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, with a resurgent AAP hoping to pull off a surprise win.
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Having won the seat thrice in the past, Amarinder has improved upon the victory margin with every election. In 2012, he had won the seat by about 40,000 votes, despite visiting the constituency only twice. First, for filing his nomination papers and then to address a public meeting. This time also, he has been seen only once when he came down to file his nomination on January 17. Before that he went around the city paying obeisance at Qila Mubarak, the seat of power from where the founder of Patiala state and his ancestor Baba Ala Singh ruled his kingdom.
He also went to the Kali Mata Temple and the Dukhniwaran Gurdwara before filing his nomination papers. This was followed by a road show which was expectedly a grand success. It is difficult to imagine Patiala without its royal family. In 1947, a large population of refugees from Pakistan settled in Patiala. The then ruler, Maharaja Yadvinder Singh settled these people and provided them amenities.
The bonding continues even now. The grateful Patialvis have expressed their gratitude with repeated emphatic wins of Amarinder and his family members from the constituency. The Akali Dal sprang a surprise by fielding General (retd) J J Singh, the first Sikh to have become the Army chief, against him. “For the first time in history a General will be defeated by a Captain”, a confident Amarinder said while reacting to Singh’s nomination. As Amarinder is busy stumping for party candidates elsewhere, his wife and former Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur and daughter Jaya Inder Kaur hold the fort for him.
They have always done that for Amarinder. This time, it is the third generation as well with Amarinder’s granddaughter Seher Inder Kaur also joining the campaign. Seher is the daughter of Amarinder’s son Raninder Singh, who is busy handling his father’s campaign in Lambi. Amarinder is also contesting from Lambi against Chief Minister and Akali Dal stalwart Parkash Singh Badal.
Besides J J Singh, Balbir Singh of the Aam Aadmi Party, is also in the fray, seeking to make the contest triangular. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Amarinder’s wife had lost Patiala seat to Dharmavira Gandhi of AAP, but maintained a lead from Patiala Assembly segment. AAP has since split in the state and Gandhi is no longer with it. Entering the poll arena for the first time, J J Singh, a greenhorn in politics, says his motto is “decisive victory against Amarinder who is not accessible and is an arrogant leader drunk with power”.
“It’s mission impossible for Amarinder,” J J Singh claims. “I am not here to seek vote, but to serve the people,” he says, adding “may the best candidate win”. The former Army General says political dynamics in Punjab have changed after AAP entered the fray. He feels AAP candidate will eat into the traditional votes of Congress, helping him in the process.
“I am here with no past baggage”…I am fighting a battle against a person with colonial mindset,” he says. Describing himself as a “true soldier”, Singh says Amarinder was “not a true army personnel”. “Amarinder joined the Army just to get the rank…he was never active in combat. In the 1965 war, when army personnel were recalled, he should have opted to serve on the border,” he says.
In the absence of Amarinder, Preneet, stil addressed as Maharani, tells people in the constituency: “You trusted me. But now I have come to ask for your vote for Maharaja Sahab. It is your responsibility to give the state another CM. Badals have left Punjab in a sad state. The state has been plundered.” AAP’s Balbir Singh, however, considers himself a dark horse. “Why is Amarinder fighting a war by proxy? Where is he?” he asks. The eye surgeon, who had crafted Dharamvira Gandhi’s campaign against Preneet in 2014 polls, asserts, “First we defeated the Rani. Now it is the turn of the Raja.”