Bathinda: Faceoff for Punjab’s political titans

March 29th, 2009 - 1:59 pm ICT by IANS  

By Jaideep Sarin
Bathinda (Punjab), March 29 (IANS) This town is not the ideal setting for a summer battle, given its proximity to neighbouring Rajasthan’s desert area. But it has been chosen for the biggest faceoff between two leading political families of Punjab in the Lok Sabha polls.

In the peak of heat, May 7 to be precise, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his powerful deputy chief minister son Sukhbir Singh Badal will be test their might against former chief minister Amarinder Singh in this southwest Punjab seat even though none of these leaders is contesting the polls.

In the fray from Bathinda is Harsimrat Kaur, wife of Sukhbir Badal, on the state’s ruling Akali Dal ticket. She faces Raninder Singh, son of Amarinder Singh and the 13th descendant of the erstwhile royal family of Patiala and the Congress candidate.

This is the first time the two leading political families are in a direct showdown. The stakes - not to mention the heat and dust of the area - will force both sides to sweat it out for their respective candidates.

“I have entered the electoral fray. Now it is for him (husband Sukhbir Badal) to ensure my victory,” Harsimrat Kaur, 42, said after being named the Akali candidate.

Harsimrat, a homemaker so far, has been the Badal family’s and the Akali Dal’s backroom think tank in recent years, family sources told IANS.

She has been in the social limelight ever since she joined the ‘Nanhi Chhaan’ (Little shadow) campaign of giving saplings to those visiting Sikh shrines to drive home the message of saving the girl child.

Being from the state’s first political family gives Harsimrat an advantage in her very first electoral battle.

But her Congress opponent Raninder Singh, 41, a political greenhorn like her, is no pushover either.

“Amarinder Singh’s native village (Mehraj) is in Bathinda district. His family belongs to this area. They will surely win,” said a Congress leader in Bathinda.

While the Akalis will bank heavily on their family clout and the fact that the Badal government has three more years in power in the state, the Congress will depend on Amarinder Singh’s charisma, his ancestral links to the area and the support of the controversial Dera Sacha Sauda sect.

The sect, which has had a run-in with the Sikh community and the Akali Dal leadership in the last two years, has scores of followers in this belt.

Local leaders from both sides are a happy lot these days.

“With each side trying for a win, the top leaders will concentrate on this seat. We will get a lot of attention and time from them. This area, neglected so far, will also see more development,” said Harcharan Singh, an Akali Dal supporter.

Bathinda has the Guru Gobind Singh oil refinery coming up and steel-czar Lakshmi Mittal has a stake in it. The town has an army cantonment. In recent months, Sukhbir Badal has promised an international cricket stadium and an international airport for the district.

The Bathinda Lok Sabha seat was a reserved one till last time. It is now a general seat under the delimitation of seats. Punjab has a total of 13 Lok Sabha seats.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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