Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley faces a tough electoral battle in his maiden bid to enter Lok Sabha from Amritsar but is unfazed by his "reluctant" heavyweight opponent Capt Amarinder Singh as he claims the groundswell against Congress "adds to my confidence".
He dismisses criticism of his being an "outsider" saying Amritsar is one of the most hospitable cities in India and an Amritsari who goes to Delhi for work cannot be given that tag.
He wants to be the powerful voice of the holy city in Delhi.
Jaitley also rejects any anti-incumbency against him in view of the complaints against his party colleague and sitting MP Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is out of the contest this time due to problems with ally Akali Dal.
Jaitley has some new plans for Amritsar, which has links to his grandmother, like opening of the Indo-Pak border trade, converting Amritsar as a tourism hub and Punjab as a whole as an educational and industrial centre.
"Amritsar is looking for a powerful voice at the Centre so that it can get its dues. It is with that hope that people look at me. And it is that factor singularly which gives me an advantage," he claims.
The 61-year-old eminent lawyer from Delhi says he is enjoying the electoral battle because he is in the driver's seat this time even though he is not new to elections.
"It is for the Congress to decide who they want to field. To field a reluctant man is never a safe political strategy," he told PTI in an interview, rejecting any suggestion that he may not have bargained for a tough fight that the Amritsar battle has turned out to be.
"He (Amarinder) belongs to a party which has committed large number of improprieties and atrocities against the Sikhs. He can't distance himself from that.”
"Secondly, Amritsar is a city where under BJP and Akalis and Punjab as a state social harmony has been the best and therefore, this is the state where there is no religious divide, neither do we try and create one," Jaitley said.
He was replying to a question whether the fact that the majority of 64 per cent voters in Amritsar were Sikhs and the fact that Amarinder had protested against Operation Bluestar and quit his Lok Sabha seat and the Congress party were formidable factors against him.
"I am feeling very comfortable. There is a groundswell against the Congress. Amritsar is probably one of the most hospitable cities in India and the affection that I have received from people in the initial days is very touching. It adds to my confidence," he said brushing aside his opponent's jibes that he did not belong to Amritsar.
Perceived to be carrying the baggage of Sidhu's "non-performance" and his absence from the constituency, the senior BJP leader who shares a good equation with the former cricketer, said it was not true.
"First of all, I don't think there is a personal anti-incumbency against him. Secondly, if there is anti-incumbency, it is against the UPA. And there is a huge anti-incumbency against the UPA," he said.
He listed out price rise, the LPG prices, plight of farmers and slowdown in the economy as being responsible for a huge anti-incumbency along with corruption.
"Congress also has a problem of leaderlessness. Now all this is creating an anti-incumbency. Corruption has got down the image of this government. There is a groundswell against the Congress and the people are looking for a change," he said.
Ready to become the "powerful" voice of the Holy city and the region to fight for its rights, Jaitley offered some ambitious plans like opening the border trade with Pakistan, developing Amritsar as a tourism centre and improving its infrastructure.
"The people there (in Amritsar) look at me as a voice which can represent the city at the Centre. I do feel that I suitably qualify for that faith and therefore, they want a voice which will give a boost to the facilitation for the Indo-Pak trade.
"They see a BJP government coming and it is in their interest that somebody who is a part of the government tries to bring that change," he said.
Jaitley said Amritsar is known as a historical city with great religious importance and was also an erstwhile trading centre and thus needs to be developed further.
"Amritsar people want the border trade to begin. The economy of Amritsar depends on border trade. Amritsar has to become a tourism hub. You have to create a tourism infrastructure.
"You have to create a city-based infrastructure which Amritsar indeed should have," he said listing out the sewage, water pipelines, quality of roads, quality of 'sarais', guest houses and hotels, on which the infrastructure will depend.
Jaitley said Amritsar at one stage was known for a certain category of products like textiles and was also a manufacturing hub for them.
"So we do have to take a special effort to revive the manufacturing potential of Amritsar and that is what I have in my mind," he said.
Talking about its tourism potential, Jaitley said Amritsar is a town which has the Golden Temple, the Durgiana Mandir, the Jallianwala Bagh and the border change of guard, which can build it up as a big tourism hub.
"Why can't Amritsar be a complete tourism circuit on its own," he said.
He also said the world has become aware of the culinary delights of Amritsar and there has been a lot of attraction because of it.
"It has got a branding of its own," he said.
Jaitley said infrastructure in the state is growing and the power sector is improving, while agriculture and agri-based industries need to be further strengthened, which has been the core competence area of the agrarian state.
"Punjab is an educational hub and Punjab is an industrial hub because of its point economy. I think these are area we should look at," he said.
Jaitley also took a jibe at his opponent Capt Amarinder Singh, saying "he cannot stop himself from being discourteous".
"I would like to keep the campaign as dignified as possible. But a polite response would be required whenever he is discourteous," he said.
Image: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley