Jaitley’s ‘safe’ run ends with Amarinder’s entry

By Jaideep Sarin

Amritsar: It is highly unlikely that Amritsar will be a ‘safe’ Lok Sabha seat for BJP veteran Arun Jaitley after the entry of former Congress Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh. By all accounts, the battle for Amritsar is surely heading for a major showdown.

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Both Jaitley and Amarinder command giant stature.

Jaitley is a frontline national leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, one of its most prominent faces and, more importantly, known to be close to the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

It is another matter that Jaitley has never contested, leave alone won, a direct election although he has been a strategist for many an election. The April 30 battle in Amritsar will be his first direct encounter with voters.

Amarinder Singh has a huge reputation in Punjab. He has led the Congress and has been chief minister.

The ‘Maharaja of Patiala’, as he is referred to because he comes from the erstwhile royal family of Patiala, is the best known Congress leader in Punjab. He has charisma too.

“I will give one hell of a fight. I am a soldier. Now that my party wants me to fight from Amritsar, I will do all it takes,” Amarinder Singh told IANS.

“He (Jaitley) is just another candidate. He is an outsider in Amritsar. He does not know much about the constituency,” Amarinder Singh added.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unceremoniously dumped its outgoing MP, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who won from Amritsar in 2004, 2007 (by-election) and 2009, without assigning any solid reason why he was shown the exit route.

An adamant Sidhu, who was offered alternative seats in Delhi and Haryana, stood his ground saying that he would only contest from Amritsar.

Since Jaitley’s name was announced, the chirpy Sidhu’s verbal guns are not firing at all.

Sidhu’s exit was forced by his differences with Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Mnister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is the Shiromani Akali Dal president.

He had a bitter relationship with Sukhbir Badal’s brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia, who belongs to Amritsar district.

Sidhu also had run-ins with senior Punjab BJP leaders. All of them ensured that he was not in the fray this time.

The Akalis and the BJP have an over three decades long association and run an alliance government in Punjab since 2007.

“It was the Badals, Majithia and BJP leaders who impressed upon Jaitley that he should contest from Amritsar. They assured him that it was a safe seat and they would ensure his easy victory,” a senior BJP leader, who now dreads the election outcome, told IANS.

“All that has gone for a toss with Amarinder coming in. It will take a tall order to beat him,” said the BJP leader who did not want to be identified by name.

Chief Minister Badal has tried to lure voters by claiming that if they elect Jaitley, they will have the next deputy prime minister from Amritsar. Jaitley tried to play down the remark, saying that he was not hungry for any post.