It is royalty versus commoner in battle of Patiala

Preneet Kaur
Pubjab Min Jakhar, CM Amarinder singh and Former Union Min Preneet Kaur

(Poll Trivia)

Patiala, May 14 (IANS) Royalty will take on commoner in the Patiala parliamentary seat of Punjab as Preneet Kaur, popularly known as Maharani Sahiba because of her royal antecedents, will face sitting Member of Parliament Dharamvira Gandhi.

Kaur is in the fray for the fifth time from this Lok Sabha seat where the fort of her husband and now Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s erstwhile kingdom is located.

She is facing the main ‘battle’ from Gandhi, 69, a cardiologist by profession, who prefers to ride a rickshaw to reach out to his voters for a personal rapport.

The Akali Dal-BJP combine has fielded former Minister Surjit Singh Rakhra from this seat, while AAP has fielded greenhorn Neena Mittal, an activist who worked for the party during the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections.

“I have travelled to every nook and corner of the constituency. People know me personally. They have seen my clean image and they will vote in my favour as development is my main poll plank,” Kaur told IANS.

Contrary to her, Gandhi in his election speeches never forgets to talk about her royal lineage: “There is a queen on that side and you have a commoner Gandhi this side. The choice is yours.”

This time Gandhi, who was ousted from AAP after revolting, is in the fray as a candidate of his newly floated outfit Nawan Punjab Party, which has a backing of the six-party alliance Punjab Democratic Alliance led by AAP firebrand rebel and legislator Sukhpal Khaira.

In her campaign to reach Parliament for the fourth time, the 75-year-old Kaur speaks of development during her husband’s two-year stint as the Chief Minister vis-a-vis the 10-year “misrule” of the Akalis.

“I am focusing on the development works done by the Captain Amarinder government in just two years. I am telling the people that only the Congress can bring them back on the path of progress,” said a soft-spoken Kaur, who is known to be an easy access to the public, more than her husband.

The former Union Minister, who had won this Lok Sabha seat in 1999, 2004 and 2009, proudly says she has inaugurated projects worth Rs 1,000 crore in her constituency since her husband-led Congress government came to helm in March 2017.

However, Gandhi banks on the projects and grants he got them sanctioned after becoming a Member of Parliament.

When asked about the issues dominating these elections, he said: “I think local issues will take precedence over national ones. People are fed up with PM Modi’s policies.”

“Here my fight is not against Preneet Kaur, but against Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s style of functioning.”

A headache though for rickshaw-riding Gandhi in this election is to remind the voters that his party symbol this time is not the ‘jhadoo’ or broom but a microphone.

In his election rallies, Shriomani Akali Dal (SAD) candidate Rakhra, who defeated Preneet Kaur in 1999 polls by 78,000 votes, is banking on the Modi wave and development by the SAD-BJP combine government in its 10-year stint in the state.

He is also gunning for the Congress government for its failure to fulfil poll promises, mainly loan waiver and eradication of drugs.

Asserting that there is no Modi factor in Congress-ruled Punjab, Kaur said: “The BJP tries to divide people along communal lines for petty political gains, which Punjabis will never allow.”

“The so-called Modi factor failed to click in Punjab even during the 2017 Assembly polls, even though the BJP-led NDA government was still in its prime.”

She also does not sees any threat from the sitting MP.

“In the last (2014) elections, my family members were divided and also Captain Saab was himself busy in contesting from Amritsar against Arun Jaitley. Now, all are campaigning for me.”

On Dharamvira Gandhi, Kaur, who faced defeat by a slender margin of 20,000 votes in 2014, replied: “I really know very little about Dr Gandhi, except that he is a well-to-do practising doctor.”

He had joined politics on AAP plank but had obviously decided to shift his ideology by leaving the party only within two months of entering Parliament.

“I don’t know whether the party could not fit into his thinking or vice versa. Either way, I do not see him as a threat of any kind,” a confident Kaur added.

As a consolation, she knows that her party has legislators on seven of the nine assembly segments that fall in the Patiala parliamentary seat, while the Akali Dal has just two.

In the 15 general elections held in Punjab since 1957, the Congress won Patiala nine times while the Akali Dal, including its stalwart Gurcharan Singh Tohra, four times.

Punjab goes to the polls on May 19 for its 13 Lok Sabha seats.

(Vishal Gulati can be reached at [email protected])

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