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Amritsar big fight: BJP hopes to break 10-year jinx through ex-diplomat Sandhu

IANS | May 27, 2024 02:37 PM

AMRITSAR: The BJP is aiming to break its 10-year jinx in one of India’s holiest cities, Amritsar in Punjab, in its third attempt through Taranjit Singh Sandhu.

This soft-spoken and patrician diplomat redefined India-US relations before entering politics.

Sandhu is the third high-profile figure from Amritsar, after late Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Union Minister Hardeep Puri, once a diplomat too, to try his luck from this Lok Sabha seat.

The Amritsar seat is witnessing a four-cornered contest between the Congress, the ruling AAP, the BJP, and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidates.

Incumbent MP Gurjeet Singh Aujla -- who in a daring act snatched a smoke canister from an attacker and threw it out of the Parliament building in the December 2023 security breach -- is aiming to score a hat-trick as the Congress nominee after two-consecutive wins.

As a BJP nominee, Amritsar, the constituency dominated by the Jat community, was represented by cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu from 2004 to 2014.

Sidhu is now in the Congress, through missing from the political landscape.

After witnessing the embarrassing defeat of its high-profile candidate Arun Jaitley in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Hardeep Puri, a Sikh but non-Jat, was the second BJP leader to have lost the seat at the height of a ‘Modi wave’.

Puri had faced a tough straight fight, and lost by 99, 626 votes to Aujla.

“It is a fight for prestige this time, not only to break the winning streak from Amritsar seat from 2014 onwards but also to ensure victory with a record margin, ” a local BJP leader told IANS.

He believes the PM Modi factor is the main advantage for Sandhu, a turbaned Sikh, who is banking on urban Hindu voters too.

The walled city of Amritsar, the seat of several Sikh organisations, including the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikh religion, and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), considered a mini-parliament of Sikh religious affairs, was founded in the late 16th century by Guru Ramdas, the fourth guru of the Sikhs.

While the AAP has fielded its Cabinet Minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal, the Akali Dal has reposed its faith in prominent Hindu face, Anil Joshi, who had twice represented the Amritsar (North) Assembly segment as a saffron party nominee and believes his achievements as a minister in the SAD-BJP government outshine Aujla’s achievements.

Joshi was expelled in July 2021 by the BJP for six years for criticising the state and central leadership for mishandling the farm agitation.

In his election campaigns, the BJP’s candidate Sandhu, who believes there is overwhelming support for PM Modi’s leadership for the progress and development of ‘Viksit Amritsar’, emphasises his vision for Amritsar with focus on infrastructure, employment and improvement in law enforcement, especially drug-prevention.

“We have immense potential to leverage our medical expertise and develop Amritsar as a hub for healthcare tourism, ” he was quoted as saying.

While campaigning, Sandhu had lunch with a Dalit family to feel the pulse of the economically-backward. After enquiring about the problems relating to water, power and sewage system, he assured an elderly woman, the head of the family that he would come again after his victory and relish food the same way by sitting on the floor.

A whopping 32 per cent population of Scheduled Castes resides in Punjab, the highest among all the states.

Responding to the Abu Dhabi-based LuLu Group International’s announcement of starting a logistics and food processing centre in Amritsar, Sandhu, who believes PM Modi’s confidence fuels his determination, said the establishment of the centre will help boost the ‘Viksit Amritsar’ vision.

“I have worked with Prime Minister Modi for 10 years and our nation has flourished. His foreign policies and investments that came to India were aimed towards development. Now our children are getting jobs in India. We have to bring the same vision of ‘vikas’ (development) to Amritsar, ” he told IANS.

He said in the last 10 years the incumbent MP has not done anything substantive for the local industry, highlighting inefficiency to get central schemes for Amritsar.

“I am committed to addressing every issue they (constituents) have raised, ” he added.

Sandhu, who believes in serving with integrity and transparency, has a plethora of ideas for making the holy city stand out in infrastructure development, generating employment and furthering a harmonious environment.

The former diplomat’s ‘Viksit Amritsar’ vision includes alternatives for agricultural development and sustainability and building Amritsar’s trade corridor with the potential of international outreach.

He also believes the Modi government has made significant strides in supporting and uplifting the Sikh community, fostering development and honouring their contributions to the nation.

While campaigning, the former Ambassador of India to the US visited Ajnala and Attari, where he highlighted his vision to bring in a special development package for revamping the border areas and work towards growth in education, agriculture, healthcare and infrastructure sectors.

Listening to the grievances of local traders who want to resume business with Pakistan through the Integrated Check Post (ICP), Sandhu said he would make efforts to revive trade through the Attari-Wagah border.

He also promised to bring in a special package for the holy city to beautify and clean it on the pattern of Indore.

Even the sitting Congress MP Aujla and the SAD have demanded opening of trade via the ICP.

Sandhu, the second diplomat-turned-politician after Hardeep Puri, who had faced defeat from the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat in 2019 after Arun Jaitley’s debacle in 2014, has a rich family heritage.

Sandhu’s grandfather Teja Singh Samundri was among the founders of the SGPC and his father Bishan Singh Samundri was the founding Vice-Chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar.

Two-time Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had won this seat by a margin of more than a lakh votes by defeating Jaitley. At that time he was in the Congress and the SAD-BJP combine was in power in the state. He’s currently in the BJP.

Capt Singh quit as the Amritsar MP before the Assembly polls in 2017 and Aujla was fielded by the Congress for the bye-election, which he won by over 1.97 lakh votes, defeating the BJP and AAP candidates in a triangular fight.

Amritsar is a Sikh-majority constituency with more than 60 per cent voters. Since 1952, Amritsar has been represented 12 times by Congress MPs, while the BJP nominees have represented it four times, including three-consecutive wins by Navjot Sidhu.

There are nine Assembly segments in the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency. Of them, eight are represented by AAP and one, Majitha, is represented by the Akali Dal.

Punjab's 13 Lok Sabha seats are slated to go to the polls in a single phase on June 1. Votes will be counted on June 4.

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