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The battle for Patiala: Royalty vs ambition

By Vijay Dabur in Patiala
May 01, 2004 10:50 IST
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The electoral battle in prestigious Patiala parliamentary constituency of Punjab is between a 'Maharani Sahiba' out to uphold the prestige of a royal family and a seasoned politician at a make-or-break point of his career.

The political landscape of the state changed after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh's wife, Preneet Kaur, 'Maharani Sahiba' as she is popularly known, won this seat in the 1999 Lok Sabha election capitalising on a divided Shiromani Akali Dal. The SAD chief, Prakash Singh Badal, then was at loggerheads with late G S Tohra.

Tohra is no more and the May 10 election will decide who can fill the void created by his death.

Preneet Kaur is facing a stiff challenge from SAD candidate and former finance minister Capt Kanwaljit Singh. Both have a clean image and enjoy a personal rapport with the voters in this constituency spread over Banur, Ghanaur, Dakala, Patiala, Samana, Shatrana, Rajpura, Sunam and Lehra Gagga assembly segments.

Preneet Kaur claims credit for bringing in NABARD-sponsored Rs 148 crore project for channelising the Ghaggar river,  which causes massive damage to crops by overflowing in the monsoon.

"I dealt with the problems caused by the Ghaggar and money started flowing only after the Central Water Commission gave a no-objection certificate. The first installment of Rs 33 crore has come and another Rs 65 crore will come shortly. The project will be completed within three years," she told a visiting PTI correspondent on the sidelines of her public
meeting in Lehra Gagga assembly segment.

"Once the project is complete, the Ghaggar, which causes havoc during monsoons in around 300 villages falling in Ghanaur and Lehra Gagga assembly segments, will be tamed with embankments, check dams, drains and canals," she said.

However, if Preneet Kaur has development projects to her credit, she has to reckon with two big problems too. One is the presence of Bahujan Samaj Party candidate, Hargopal Singh Kashyap, who can cut into Congress votes. The second is her husband's rival in the party and deputy chief minister, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal.
Bhattal, MLA from Lehra Gagga, has not been campaigning for Preneet Kaur.

"She (Bhattal) has said she would campaign for me. However, she cannot give time presently due to a pending court case against her," Preneet said.

The Amarinder Singh camp knows too well that Bhattal's support could be crucial in Preneet's fight against the united Akalis. Congress workers at Lehra Gagga admit Bhattal's entry into electioneering for Preneet would certainly improve her prospects.

When contacted, Bhattal said she was busy with campaigning for party candidates in other parts of the state.

Another headache for the Congress is the Rajpura assembly seat, which is held by Raj Khurana, a known loyalist of Bhattal and a vocal critic of Preneet.

However, in Ghanaur assembly seat, held by Public Health Minister Jasjit Singh Randhawa, and in Patiala and Dakala constituencies represented by the chief minister and finance minister Lal Singh respectively, Preneet has a definite edge.

Weight was added to Preneet's campaign after former SAD MPs, Charanjit Singh Walia and Prem Singh Chandumajra, and SAD circle jathedar Rajinder Tohra deserted their party to join the Congress.

The outcome of the election in Patiala may well make or mar 61-year-old Capt Kanwaljit Singh's political career. He is a strong contender for the number two post in the SAD echelons of power.

"Kanwaljit Singh's win will consolidate his political fortune and promote his image as a leader of masses," his supporters say.

Hoping to storm the Congress citadel, Kanwaljit Singh said: "I found widespread resentment among people against Preneet."

He said he was seeking a mandate against alleged non-performance of the Congress in Punjab and non-fulfillment of pre-election promises made by the Amarinder Singh government.

"I am asking people to vote for progress, stability and peace which are there in NDA regime under the leadership of
Atal Bihari Vajpayee," he said.

"People are also sore over inaccessibility of Preneet and her poor performance in protecting Punjab's interest in Parliament," Singh said.

Rejecting Singh's charge, Preneet says: "On inaccessibility he (Singh) is speaking untruth. I have been working for ten
hours a day. I did not speak in Parliament because I spent more time in my constituency to help people."


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Vijay Dabur in Patiala