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A family feud, NRIs & a dark horse: Punjab's Nawanshahr a seat to watch out for

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 5:45 IST

Dynastic politics, a family feud, caste politics, the NRI factor and a dark horse - all on one seat.

The Nawanshahr constituency in the Doaba region of Punjab features all this and more, making it one of the most interesting contests to watch in the 4 February polls.

The contenders

The three main contenders here are Angad Singh Saini of the Congress, Charanjit Singh Channi of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Jarnail Singh Wahid of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). Threatening them all is the dark horse from the Bahujan Samaj Party, Dr Nachhatar Pal.

Angad is the youngest candidate fielded by the Congress. Just 26 years old, he is the picture of youth that the party has flaunted.

His USP is his family lineage. He is the son of late Parkash Singh, who won from this seat in 2002. The seat is presently held by his mother Gur Iqbal Kaur, who had won in 2012 with a very narrow margin of less than 2,000 votes.

But then, he is pitted against Channi who is Angad's father's cousin and a political heavyweight in his own right. Channi is the son of late Dilbagh Singh, who won from the Nawanshahr seat on six occasions.

It was when the Congress denied Channi a ticket that he moved over to the AAP. A big drawback for him is that he is known to be a turncoat, who has been with the Congress and the BSP in the past.

Voters say it will more or less be a direct fight between the Congress and AAP here. In Nawanshahr city, it's the Congress that seems to be making gains, while AAP has caught the fancy of a considerable number of voters in the rural areas.

The NRI factor

The NRI factor is quite dominant in Nawanshahr, as almost every household has a family member settled abroad. The city and its adjoining areas feature many hoardings offering immigration services.

Many NRIs have returned to campaign for these polls - and they're throwing their weight behind the Congress and AAP candidates.

"The big bungalows and other manifestations of affluence visible in this area are mainly because of the money sent back home by NRIs working abroad. So when they ask the people to vote, their request carries a lot of weight. Hence, the political parties leave no chance to woo the NRI community," says Lajwant Singh, a political observer and senior vernacular journalist.

Om Prakash, who runs a dhaba in the town, is representative of this NRI factor. "I worked as a cook in Spain for 14 years before I returned to take care of the ancestral home and dhaba when my parents passed away three years ago. I used to send back 1,700 euros every month while I was working there. Now, my two sons are in the United States of America and Australia. Both specialise in cooking. The elder one is a cook in America, while I helped the younger one purchase a restaurant in a mofussil Australian town. Both of them hold MA degrees in two subjects each, and it was I who taught them the art of cooking," he says.

"The issues for the NRIs as well as the voters here remain the same. They want development. The roads are in a pitiable condition. There are no job opportunities, despite the level of education being good. There is rampant corruption. There is a need to have some sort of order."

According to Om Prakash, the Congress has a slight upper hand in the constituency, because people are reluctant to try a totally new political force like the AAP.

"The Akalis don't have much of a chance. Loki samajhdar ho gaye ne (People have become wise now)," he says.

The caste equation

The caste dynamics in the constituency are such that the Sainis, Dalits and other upper castes including Jatt Sikhs are equally represented. That's what makes it an open seat.

However, BSP's Pal is being viewed as someone who could be an outside bet for victory.

"His advantage is that while the BSP's fortunes have dipped continuously in Punjab over the last two decades, the party has managed to retain its core voter base in Nawanshahr. Last time too, the party candidate had polled close to 30,000 votes, which is a bit more than one-fifth of the total votes," says Lajwant.

With both Channi and Angad being from the Saini community, and the chances of the Akalis winning remaining low, this split can work in favour of the BSP if Pal manages to make inroads among voters of other communities.

Another aspect of the caste equation here is that the district Congress president Satbir Singh is miffed at not being given a chance to contest, despite having worked for the party for more than two decades, and being the district president for a decade. If Angad wins the seat, the chances of the 50-year-old Satbir getting a ticket will be very remote in the future.

Akali candidate Wahid is a sugar mill owner and holds a law degree. He is campaigning on the plank of development brought about by the SAD-BJP regime in the last decade. He is said to be very close to SAD president Sukhbir Badal, but carries the burden of being an outsider - he is basically from Phagwara.

The question in most people's minds is why the SAD dumped the family of Jatinder Singh Kariha, who has represented the seat on three occasions.

Left presence

Nawanshahr is also a seat where the CPI (ML) New Democracy has fielded Surinder Singh Bains.

While he is unlikely to win, he is the face of the Left that has been fairly active in carrying out people-centric agitations in the area.

The students wing of his party had launched the statewide agitation for the refund of fees for students of weaker sections, under the post-matric scholarship scheme, from Nawanshahr. This party was also active in carrying out the agitation against spurious seeds, that led to the failure of the pea crop last year.

"We are the only ones talking about the people's issues. Be it the land rights for the Dalits or an employment model. While the others are promising employment, they do not have a road map. Punjab needs agro-based industry to generate employment," says Bains.

All these factors pretty much guarantee that when the votes are counted on 11 March, Nawanshahr will be a constituency to keep an eye out for.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

First published: 27 January 2017, 6:53 IST