In an attempt to showcase the Congress as the main challenger to the Akali Dal-BJP coalition government, Punjab Congress president, Captain Amarinder Singh on Saturday urged his party high command to allow him to contest against Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on his home turf of Lambi. Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, the erstwhile Maharaja of Patiala said, “This is my last election and I want to end my political career with the satisfaction of rescuing Punjab and its people from the vicious grip of the corrupt and criminal Badals”.
Amarinder Singh said that by contesting against the Chief Minister, he wanted to ensure the complete rout of the Akalis in the state in general and Parkash Singh in particular. “I want to ultimately comfortably retire with the satisfaction of helping my people to free themselves from the shackles of the Akalis”. If the Congress leadership permits Amarinder to throw down the gauntlet at Badal, the poll would witness a battle of two titans from Lambi in their final election.
Simultaneously, the mega fight would help in bringing the Congress back into the reckoning after initial reports have been suggesting that the Aam Aadmi Party was emerging as the primary claimant to the Chief Minister’s chair in Chandigarh. The AAP has already fielded Jarnail Singh, a hardliner and Delhi MLA from Lambi against the senior Badal. Thus, if Amarinder is allowed to contest and wins, he would emerge as the tallest leader in the state, regardless of what subsequently happens to his party.
Political analysts have likened Amarinder’s declaration similar to that made by Arvind Kejriwal in May 2013, when he had publicly announced that he would take on the then Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit in her home constituency of New Delhi. His proclamation not only boosted the prospects of the Aam Aadmi Party, but Kejriwal trounced Dikshit with a huge margin of 26,500 votes, thus ushering in a total change in the semantics of the capital’s politics.
In this context, Amarinder’s desire to lock horns with Parkash Singh Badal, the longest serving Chief Minister of the state and one of the senior most politicians in the country, could propel him and his party on the centre stage. It could also impact the politics within his own party and set the stage for Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is expected to join the Congress to contest against Sukhbir Singh Badal from the Jalalabad constituency. This would allow the Congress to dominate the state’s political discourse, which, at present, is being navigated by the AAP campaign against drugs, corruption and misgovernance in Punjab.
In addition to Lambi, Amarinder Singh would also contest from his traditional Patiala Urban seat and face former Army Chief, General J.J. Singh, who is the Akali nominee from the constituency. In each of the previous elections, he has won progressively with a greater margin. The reason for him of pitting himself against the formidable Badal was that if the Akalis want to put up big names against Congress nominees, he was willing to pay them back in their own currency by volunteering to vanquish the Chief Minister.
Meanwhile, Yogendra Yadav, president of Swaraj India, has asked Arvind Kejriwal to quit as Delhi’s Chief Minister in order to concentrate on Punjab. He should not use Delhi as his stepney, he said.
Although Kejriwal has refused to comment on the speculation regarding his desire of shifting to Punjab in the event of the Aam Aadmi Party winning the Assembly elections, his party sources said that it was virtually certain that Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia would succeed him as the CM once he moves to Chandigarh. The AAP is running an aggressive campaign in Punjab and has made inroads into many rural constituencies. The Congress and the Akalis have been lashing out at Kejriwal for keeping his ambitions secret by not openly accepting that he was the party’s nominee for the Chief Ministership. The ploy is that Kejriwal’s projection would pit him against the powerful Jat Sikh community, which has been dominating the state’s politics since its reorganisation in 1966. All Chief Ministers after that date, with the sole exception of Giani Zail Singh (who was a Ramgarhia—the carpenter community), have been Jat Sikhs. Kejriwal is a Bania with roots in Haryana and his rivals want him to be seen in this manner by the Punjab electorate.