Cong bets on Olympian Pargat Singh to retain pocket borough Jalandhar Cantt
Jalandhar cantonment is a constituency that has been featuring prominently in the news for the last one year.
Earlier it reflected the disenchantment of the Akali MLA Olympian hockey star Pargat Singh with his party leadership, particularly the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
In the more recent times, it has been the seat where the candidates of all the three parties - the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) the SAD - have struggled to get their candidature declared by their respective high commands.
In this seat that has traditionally been a Congress stronghold except for the last two occasions, the party seems to be making a comeback through Pargat as he looks set to reap the benefits of standing up to the Akali top order while being an Akali MLA till a few months back.But the other two strong contenders Sarabjit Makkar of SAD and HS Walia are no pushovers as they also have different factors working in their favour.
Odds & favours
This seat has chosen Akali MLAs on the last two occasions and they were Jagbir Brar in 2007 and Pargat in 2012.
Ironically both of them quit midway through their terms to join the Congress, and this time both were vying for a ticket here. While Brar had done a lot of groundwork among the voters by having joined the Congress much earlier, it was Pargat who eventually got the ticket.
Sources say that this was possible because of former cricketer turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who recently joined the Congress, put his foot down for Pargat.In a bid to appease Brar, the Congress has fielded him from Nakodar, but the people are asking a very pertinent question - what can a candidate do in 20 days when his constituency is changed?
Matter of loyalties
There is a perception that Brar loyalists may not work for Pargat but there is a counter viewpoint that this issue remains neutralised as Brar too had come into the Congress from the Akali camp.
A local political observer said, "While Pargat's plus point is that he stood up against the SAD president Sukhbir Badal while opposing setting up of a solid waste plant in Jamsher village as the locals wanted, there is another perception that he could not deliver while being an MLA of the ruling party in terms of pressurising the government on various issues. He was given the ticket by Sukhbir last time amid much fanfare and slowly the two fell apart. Pargat wanted to something in the arena of sports and the general view was that he would be made the sports minister but this was not to be."Another advantage that Pargat enjoys is that of a very clean image and a good rapport with his electorate. He has been very straightforward in his dealings.
AAP candidate HS Walia is a car dealer. His candidature saw a lot of resentment among the AAP cadres who accused the party leadership of giving tickets to those with money bags. Big names who were aspirants to the party tickets were left fuming.
These included senior journalist Major Singh who had quit his job with a leading vernacular daily to join AAP, the party candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls Jyoti Mann and former Indian women hockey team captain Rajbir Kaur.
Walia is carrying this luggage of internal strife of his party. But then, his advantage is the AAP undercurrent where people are not bothered about the internal wranglings of the party. People are willing to experiment with a third force after having tried the Congress and Akalis for decades.
There are AAP volunteers from Delhi who stand at the crossroads seeking support from every passer-by.There are also a lot of NRIs who are on the call-campaign approaching voters through phone calls. Walia has been stressing upon getting rehabilitation centres set up for drug addicts in some villages in Jalandhar.
Divide & win
Observers say that the disadvantages of Pargat and Walia are the advantages for Makkar if the arithmetic goes right for him and the rival vote gets split into two.
Otherwise, Makkar does not enjoy a good reputation with the former Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee Member (SGPC) member Paramjit Singh Raipur and district SAD president Gurcharan Singh Channi going to the extent of having reportedly called him a 'land grabber' in the past. Makkar was an Akali 'halqa incharge' in the past and like other halqa incharges in Punjab, still bears the ill-repute
Another advantage for Makkar is that the BSP candidate, Amrik Bagri, is expected to eat into the support base of the Congress and AAP.
Makkar has also got the support of Sukhbir who ostensibly wants to send across a strong message to Pargat for having left the SAD fold.
"He did not withdraw the plan for setting up the solid waste plant in Jamsher when Pargat asked him but later announced the withdrawal when Pargat left," said another political observer.
Towards the fag end of the government tenure, Sukhbir also announced that octroi would be abolished in Jalandhar. Jalandhar and Jalalabad are the only two places in Punjab where octroi is levied.
He has also announced that mobile towers would be installed in the area - something which was not being allowed by the Army citing security reasons.
Political observer Kesar Singh says that there are several people-centric issues in this constituency. He pointed out, "One of the prime issues is the sustenance of the small-scale industry that has been hit very badly by the recent demonetisation. There is also the issue of drug abuse in the rural areas. The people also want a long term solution to the pollution of water. Then there is also the issue of unemployment."
This constituency has more than 100 villages and 14 municipal wards. It is a mixed bag of rural and urban issues as it covers some of the posh localities of Jalandhar.
Former CM Beant Singh had represented this seat in 1992 while his son Tej Parkash and his daughter Gurkanwal Kaur (who joined BJP and then returned to the Congress) were chosen by the electorate in the two subsequent polls.
The question remains whether Congress can make a comeback on this seat this time.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen