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|September 2, 1999||
Patiala prefers erstwhile royals
Onkar Singh in Patiala
The Patiala parliamentary constituency is witnessing a stiff triangular contest. Parneet Kaur, wife of Captain Amarinder Singh, the former Maharaja of Patiala and the president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, is pitted against the Shiromani Akali Dal-Amritsar candidate Prem Singh Chandumajra and the Badal Akali Dal candidate Surjit Singh Rakhra.
The constituency has over 1.2 million voters spread over more than 1200 villages and Patiala city itself. Though Captain Amarinder Singh claims that his wife is going to win hands down, I am a bit sceptical. "You can take it from me that we are going to win not only the Patiala seat but all the 13 parliamentary seats in the state," the former maharaja told rediff.com in an exclusive interview at his New Moti Bagh Palace this afternoon.
On reaching Patiala from Chandigarh, I came across a street rally being addressed by the Punjab PCC president at the gates of Punjab University. There were not more than hundred people to hear him.
"If you go to his rallies you will come across only sycophants listening to him. Nobody who has some sense of what is happening in Punjab will be there," alleged Prem Singh Chandumajra, former member of Parliament.
Chandumajra is confident that he will win by a margin of over a hundred and fifty thousand votes because of the Bahujan Samaj Party's support to the Tohra Akali Dal candidates. In fact Kanshi Ram, the BSP chief, flew into Patiala by helicopter to address a rally where more than ten thousand people had been waiting for hours to hear him.
In Patiala, Badal's Akali Dal is conspicuous by its absence. Even ordinary folks at teashops will tell you that Badal's candidate will have a tough time getting elected. "I am coming from Faridkot district where Badal's son Sukhbir Badal is seeking re-election. He is finding it tough to ward off the challenge by the Congress candidate Jagmit Singh Brar. I would not be surprised if he loses his deposit," said a supporter of Captain Amarinder Singh by way of pointer to the prevailing anti-Badal trend.
Parneet Kaur was touring the interiors along with the former chief minister of the state Rajinder Kaur Bhattal. ''She starts her campaign early in the morning at six and comes back late at night. She is working hard and I am confident that she will romp home with a thumping majority. After all the people of the state respect their erstwhile rulers," said Amarinder Singh.
The Akalis are, however, not willing to buy his argument. "How can he talk like this when he has lost from the same constituency twice? Once he even lost his deposit," Chandumajra charged. "The people of Patiala want to know what the compulsions of the former ruler are that he had choose his wife as the Congress candidate. Couldn't he look beyond his family?" is the common refrain of his critics.
Amarinder Singh says that it was objectively assessed that she was the best candidate. "If she were not contesting from Patiala then I would have been canvassing more in my home constituency then in other parts of the state. Now the maharani is handling the campaign on her own. I am doing other things. I have come back to Patiala after I have visited almost all the constituencies of the state,'' he says.
He then launches into a long tirade. ''I must say that the media has been making wrong projections. It is highly biased towards the BJP. I can tell you that Sonia Gandhi will be the next prime minister and the Congress will be forming the government on its own. We had a couple of rallies here which Sonia addressed. The response was simply superb," Amarinder Singh claimed.
Patiala is one of the three constituencies in Punjab which will be using electronic voting machines. Faridkot and Taran Taran are the other two constituencies where EVMs will be used.
The Congress is hoping to capitalise on the anti-incumbency factor along with the split in the Akali Dal votes to capture all the 13 seats in the state. It is also counting on the dissatisfaction among government employees and rising corruption in the state.
"Even for the appointment of a peon you have to pay the chief minister Rs 300,000. For police constables the going rate is Rs 4 million. The increase in power tariffs and transport fares has also put people off," a Congress supporter claimed.
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