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Amritsar No Cakewalk For Taranjit Singh Sandhu

By Aditi Phadnis
April 01, 2024 16:29 IST
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Barring 2004 and 2009 when Navjot Singh Sidhu won the Amritsar seat as a BJP MP and 1998 when Daya Singh Sodhi from BJP was elected as the MP, it has essentially a Congress bastion.

IMAGE: Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from Amritsar, speaks at the BJP district head office. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu/X

The smoke began rising at dusk on October 31, 1984. Indira Gandhi was assassinated at 9.18 am, but the news was officially confirmed after 11 am.

The then President of India, Giani Zail Singh, visited the All India Institute of Medical Sciences a few hours later.

Stones were hurled at his cavalcade.

As the sun sank, establishments belonging to the Sikhs in Delhi's Sarojini Nagar were set on fire.

By November 1, rioting spread across the national capital.

A mob surrounded the Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib where Sikh families had taken shelter.

Stray incidents of violence were reported in Munirka Vihar, adjoining the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

But what about the Sikh students on the campus? A professor told her son to run to the Kaveri hostel and fetch her only Sikh student.

Her orders were: 'Bring him even if he doesn't want to come'. That boy was Taranjit Singh Sandhu, otherwise known as Tarry, enrolled in the MA-PhD programme at the School of International Studies.

He would go on to become India's ambassador to the United States.

Sandhu's escort distinctly remembers the walk from the hostel to the safehouse.

"Two men were walking behind us. I was convinced they were following us. Tarry kept calm. I walked faster, my heart in my mouth. They took a fork in the road and disappeared.

"Finally, we reached home. Tarry stayed with us for three or four days. He shared my room. He was very, very quiet. When the rioting seemed to ebb, he returned to the hostel," he said.

As a student, Sandhu was an affable soul, letting his patrician lineage show only occasionally.

He was, after all, the grandson of Teja Singh Samundri, in whose memory, a building was built in Amritsar's Sri Harmandir Sahib complex.

Samundri was the leading light in the freedom struggle and was imprisoned by the British in Lahore jail in 1926, where he died in custody.

His classmates and juniors at the JNU had little doubt that academics was not Sandhu's final career destination, though they could not have said with certainty that it would be politics.

On the campus, he was a Free Thinker, who opposed the SFI.

After he joined the Indian Foreign Service, abandoning his quest for a PhD, he returned to where he started: Lawrence School, Sanawar, where he had been head boy, as chief guest for the Founder's Day in 2017.

His maths teacher, Rajesh Puri, recalled that Sandhu's schoolmate, friend, and Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal had been good in all subjects except math.

Sandhu, on the other hand, had proved himself a worthy all-round Sanawar boy.

As Sandhu takes the plunge into politics, he has made no secret about wanting to contest from Amritsar as a BJP candidate.

The Akali Dal and BJP are still wrestling with the issue of an alliance and whose interest it will serve and/or undermine.

But one thing is clear. Barring 2004 and 2009 when cricketer-showman Navjot Singh Sidhu won the Amritsar seat as a BJP MP and 1998 when Daya Singh Sodhi from BJP was elected as the MP, it has essentially a Congress bastion.

In 2014, Arun Jaitley was fielded from the constituency and Narendra Modi came to campaign for him, declaring to voters that if 'Arunji was elected, Amritsar would be represented in the council of ministers at a very high level'.

Although the BJP and SAD had an alliance, Jaitley lost to Amarinder Singh of the Congress by a margin of 102,000 votes.

The margin may have been larger if there had been no alliance, says Pramod Kumar, chairman of the non-profit institute to study governance based in Chandigarh,

"The Akali Dal's Bikram Singh Majithia worked for him tirelessly -- in fact, the Majitha assembly constituency contributed nearly 60,000 of the 300,000 or so votes that Jaitley got. 50 per cent of the votes cast in the assembly segment went to the BJP and Jaitley still lost."

IMAGE: Newly-joined BJP member Taranjit Singh Sandhu calls on BJP President J P Nadda in New Delhi. Photograph: ANI Photo

In 2019, the BJP with the same alliance, and fielded Ambassador Hardeep Puri, who lost by almost the same margin.

"The vote for Navjot Sidhu was a vote for Navjot Sidhu. It was not a vote for the BJP," says Dr Kuldip Singh, former head of the department of political science at the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.

While Teja Singh Samundri's name still resonates with voters in the constituency (which he says is still overwhelmingly rural), his grandson contesting as a candidate from the BJP is unacceptable to most voters, says Dr Singh.

The last word is still not out on the possible dynamic between the BJP-SAD alliance.

"A tie-up could transfer some of our votes to the BJP. But the BJP's voters will never support us. Net, net, it is a loss for us," a SAD MP says.

Dr Singh concedes the consecration of the Ram temple has had some effect on Hindus who will be persuaded to transfer their vote to the Akali Dal if that is the route to a BJP victory.

But this could be too small to matter as "Punjabi Hindus are Arya Samaji and not Sanatani", Kumar adds.

Washington, New York, Frankfurt, and Colombo -- all places where Sandhu has served -- must seem like remote destinations. In Punjab, they do things differently.

But the motto of every Sanawar boy is to 'Never Give In'.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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Aditi Phadnis
Source: source
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