Revolving doors in Punjab
Captain Amarinder Singh and his party did a first at the Chandigarh Press Club recently. Rated as the country's best Press Club, it is a rather superior watering hole. The club had allowed 100 Congress supporters to be present for a so-called Press Conference with Capt Amarinder Singh. On the day, as I arrived at the club, I found that the Press Club looked a little different. A huge political rally-type crowd streamed towards it.It was then that we discovered that it was in fact a rally and not a press conference at all. For heaven's sake, a Congress rally at the Chandigarh Press Club! Journos were astounded and poor Press Club officials sheepishly explained that they did not know this was the Congress' plan.
Anyway we tried to push ahead through the crowd to be able to see and hear Capt Amarinder Singh, sitting at the centre of the stage surrounded by a throng of supporters trying, it would seem, to squeeze the air out of him on both sides. His ADC Major Amardeep was making valiant efforts to nudge people off stage. Capt Amarinder Singh was a former infantry officer and in the order of precedence has been higher than the Army Chief. No wonder he has an aide de camp. That is the explanation for Maj Amardeep'S presence, a fine gentleman though, truth be told! But inspite of Amardeep's best efforts, an unruly gaggle tried to press itself onto the stage, all anxious for a photo-op with the King Cong of Punjab. For a moment it looked as if Amarinder Singh would fall off the stage, had it not been for the deft crowd management of Major Amardeep. Would have been a bit embarassing for Capt Amarinder Singh to have suddenly disappeared from the line of sight of journos and video cameras!
The objective of the rally, sorry press conference, in fact rally-cum press-conference was basically to introduce some folks who were publicly quitting the rival Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and joining the Congress. Honestly, I didn't know any of them. There were no big names, although they could become famous in the future. In this election the doors of both the Congress And Akali Dal are revolving fast and many candidates are switching sides, which proves that no one is quite sure who will win.
A peeved Bir Devinder Singh, formerly deputy Speaker of the Punjab Assembly and a Congress stalwart recently put in his papers and resigned from the Congress saying he was anguished over the way the CBI has given a clean chit to Tytler and the Congress has given him a ticket in Delhi. So he has quit and he might cross the fence sometime soon. Meanwhile, Jasjit Singh Bunny, son of Punjab Cooperative Minister Capt Kanwaljit Singh, a top Akali leader who was killed in a car crash a fortnight back, was being wooed hard by the Congress. The Congress' courtship of Bunny was made easier by Punjab Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, not really known for the political wisdom of his father Parkash Singh Badal. Sukhbir reportedly said that since Bunny had been made a chairman of a banking cooperative, there was nothing more that he could expect. Now, that remark did not go down well with Bunny at all, nor indeed within the top Akali leadership itself. The public too found it pretty distasteful too. After all, Bunny had just lost his father and the least Sukhbir Badal could have done was to be a little more politically correct. Sukhbir seemed to have opened his mouth to exchange feet! After Sukhbir's remark, Bunny promptly announced that he was leaving the Akalis and would be fighting the Patiala seat as an Independent. Of course, Independents are usually not that independent. Bunny, a top Akali leader's son will certainly eat into the votes of Prem Singh Chandumajra, the Akali candidate from Patiala and who would benefit? Obviously, Maharani Preneet Kaur, wife of Capt Amarinder Singh, fighting on the Congress ticket from Patiala. Political compulsions create all kinds of spider webs of intrigue.
Once Bunny became an Independent, he seemed to be drawing closer to the Congress. At that moment, a sudden rumour began that the Akali government was about to fall. There were frenzied whisperings that Capt Amarinder Singh was at Bunny's house, that he would soon be joined by other Akali leaders, they would march to the governor's house and there would be some political storm. Airtel, Idea, BSNL and other operators made a lot of money in those few hours that the rumour was in circulation. Phones rang non stop all over Punjab. Media organizations lost money as they deployed resources waiting for something to happen. Nothing did. It was, you guessed it, nothing but a rumour!
The feeling here is Congress will be better placed in this Lok Sabha election in Punjab. But the Congress could have queered its own pitch by the 1984 clean chit to Tytler. Even Congress guys are wondering why in the name of God, did the CBI have to give a clean chit now! They could have done it later and things would have been hunky dory. But the congress has a knack of shooting itself in the foot.
For now, the road shows have begun. Bathinda is the hot spot where there's a slug fest between Capt Amarinder Singh and Parkash Singh Badal. The titans are fighting a proxy war which could determine the perception of their parties for years to come. Amarinder's son Raninder is pitched against Parkash Badal's daughter-in-law Harsimrat Kaur Badal. Both are novices, except for the fact that they come from political households. Capt Amarinder Singh likes to call Harsimrat Badal 'Nanni Chaun', a programme to prevent female foeticide that Harsimrat spearheads. The Battle for Bathinda will certainly be an exciting one.
The other seat to watch will be Patiala, from where Amarinder's wife Preneet, yes, her with the designer salwar kameezes, is trying to make it again to the Lok Sabha.
And then there is Amritsar where Navjot Sidhu will be trying to power up his one-liners to secure a mandate. This will be a hat-trick if he makes it. However, his winning margin seems to be narrowing with each fresh attempt of his, and that could be cause for worry for Sidhu, especially as he is pitched against a strong local candidate O P Soni of the Congress. As Lalu Yadav is discovering in Bihar, sometimes just being funny doesn't get you the votes in a maturing electorate which increasingly wants to take its leaders seriously.