Litmus test for BJP’s first candidate on party symbol since 1996 from Patiala

Four-time Congress MP from the grand old party’s bastion Patiala, and former Minister of State for External Affairs, Preneet Kaur, who is contesting for the first time on a BJP ticket from this seat, is caught in a multi-cornered contest for the June 1 parliamentary polls in Punjab.

Preneet Kaur is campaigning, with a focus largely on urban areas that fall in the nine Assembly constituencies of the AAP-ruled state.

In rural areas, like all the other 12 nominees of the BJP, Preneet Kaur is facing the wrath of farmers over their unmet demands by the government at the Centre.

Sitting MP Preneet Kaur, who is the wife of two-time Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, has been pitted against Congress candidate and noted cardiologist Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, who is seven years younger than 79-year-old Kaur.

Incidentally, Dr Dharamvira Gandhi defeated Preneet Kaur in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when he was contesting on an AAP ticket.

While this time the AAP has fielded Health Minister, Balbir Singh, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has reposed faith in two-time Legislator and realtor NK Sharma, the first Hindu face of the party from the Sikh-dominated seat.

Singh and Sharma are political greenhorns where parliamentary polls are concerned.

Interestingly, both the BJP and AAP candidates have switched sides in these polls.

Preneet Kaur is the BJP’s first candidate on the party symbol from this seat since the Akali Dal snapped its nearly three-decade-long ties and pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in September 2020.

The divorce between the long-standing alliance partners happened after sharp differences emerged over the three controversial farm laws, now repealed.

On earlier occasions, this seat had been contested by SAD candidates as part of the seat-sharing arrangement with the BJP since 1996.

In 2014, Congress candidate Dr Gandhi emerged victorious as the AAP candidate. He quit the AAP in 2016 and floated the Nawan Punjab Party and in the 2019 polls, he finished third.

Preneet Kaur, who was suspended from the Congress last year for anti-party activities, represented this seat four times as the Congress MP. Impressed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies like the Viksit Bharat Programme, she joined the saffron party like her husband Capt Singh, a veteran of many political and military battles.

Unlike her husband, she remains accessible. Capt Singh, popularly known as ‘Maharaja’ as he was born into the erstwhile princely state of Patiala where their fort is located, is not contesting these elections.

He faced a humiliating defeat in the 2022 Assembly polls at the hands of the AAP’s greenhorn Ajit Pal Kohli from Patiala. Later, he merged his outfit, the Punjab Lok Congress, with the BJP.

In these polls, Capt Singh has been conspicuous by his absence from the state’s political landscape.

To counter the strong connect of Dr Gandhi with the public, Kaur, known as ‘Maharani’, has been justifying to the electorate that her husband would soon join the party’s campaign across the state.

Her children, Raninder Singh and Jai Kaur, are accompanying her on the campaign trail.

Patiala, one of the 13 parliamentary constituencies in Punjab, has been a bastion of the Congress. It has nine Assembly constituencies — Nabha (Reserved), Patiala, Patiala (Rural), Rajpura, Dera Bassi, Ghanaur, Sanour, Samana and Shutrana.

Firmly believing that the farmers are ‘annadatas’ she and her family, especially Capt Singh, have always championed for their rights and have stood up for them, the Patiala MP told IANS.

“In a democratic society everyone has a right to protest and make their voices heard. As their elected representative I have always tried to bring their demands to the notice of the Central government and will continue to do so in the future,” she told IANS.

Last week, farmer Surinderpal Singh, 45, died near Rajpura while protesting against Kaur. Later, the BJP released a video in which the police were seen urging the protestors not to stop the candidate’s car, when suddenly, the farmer collapsed to the ground.

Missing no opportunity to hit out at his rival, Congress candidate Gandhi has been taking jibes at her royal lineage.

“Raja nahi faqir hai, Patiale di taqdeer hai (I am not a king but a beggar, I am the fate of Patiala),” Dr Gandhi, who has been running a charity for the last 30 years, has been quoted as saying in his election campaigns. He was jailed during the Emergency.

Often addressing her as Maharani Preneet Kaur, Dr Gandhi, with assets to the tune of Rs 4 crore as per his 2019 election affidavit, says, “Not because she is Maharani, but I will defeat her as the candidate of the BJP, which is anti-people and anti-democracy.”

However, Preneet Kaur, who had declared total assets of Rs 5.48 crore in the 2019 polls, has no qualms about folding her hands and bowing before the commoners to seek votes for the party.

Preneet Kaur, who started her career as Red Cross social worker, is saying at her election meetings: “I am a grassroots worker. The people in this area love us not because of the royalty but because we are emotionally attached with them.”

She told IANS that she is quite familiar with locals and their issues as she frequents the area even after elections.

The erstwhile royals have always launched their election campaign after paying obeisance at Burj Baba Ala Singh-ji at Patiala’s historic Qila Mubarak, around which the old walled city of Patiala, some 75 km from Chandigarh, was constructed.

AAP candidate and state Health Minister Dr Balbir Singh, a 66-year-old ophthalmologist, is eyeing his win on the performance of his government’s two-year tenure. He’s a Legislator from Patiala (Rural) and is among the five ministers in the fray in Punjab.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Kaur won with a significant margin against her nearest rival, Surjit Singh Rakhra, of the SAD.

As per the 2011 Census, Sikhs constitute 55.90 per cent of the population in Patiala, while there are 41 per cent Hindus.

Polling in Punjab for all 13 seats is scheduled in the last phase on June 1.

Courtesy: “IANS”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.