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Can 'outsider' Sidhu do it in Amritsar?

Source: PTI
May 01, 2004 15:42 IST
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The battle for the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency is a contest between two generations --  octogenarian politician Raghunandan Lal Bhatia of the Congress seeking his seventh win is pitted against 41-year old former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is testing the electoral waters for the first time.

Sidhu has pleasant memories of Amritsar. It was here he scored a century against Clive Lloyd's West Indian side in 1983. How the political pitch in the Golden Temple town turn out for him remains to be seen.

He enjoys a near-iconic status with the youth in the constituency. He is also drawing large crowds during his door-to-door campaign. But will all this translate into votes?

There are two main worrying signals for Sidhu. First, the tag of an 'outsider' -- the former cricketer is from Patiala. Second, the local BJP leadership here has not taken kindly to his nomination at the expense of more deserving party workers.

"Most of the party workers [have not] yet come out of their houses to campaign for Sidhu. Several BJP ex-councillors are annoyed with the party," said a BJP leader.

BJP's state unit chief Avinash Rai Khanna has not yet visited Amritsar to campaign for Sidhu. Senior state BJP leader Blaramjidas Tandon has also more or less stayed away. He was a contender for the Amritsar seat.
When asked to comment, Sidhu said: "I would not like to say anything on this issue, but I have the blessings of Tandonji who will shortly join my election campaign."

The rumour is that Sidhu's name was proposed by Shiromani Akali Dal president Parkash Singh Badal and it was not
the BJP leadership's choice. SAD is a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

The BJP high command had toyed with the idea of fielding former deputy commissioner of Amritsar, Sarabjit
Singh, from Amritsar. But his name was stuck off when Badal raised objections because Sarbajit Singh had been critical of the Akali leadership in a book he has authored.

Sidhu, however, said: "I have strong faith in the local leadership and what they are doing certainly would be in favour of my party. I have strong reasons to ask for votes since my Congress opponent, during his six tenures, has done nothing -- no visible development or anything concrete -- for the upliftment of poor strata of the society.

"If I become MP, surely I will bring sea changes in the city and my priority would be to do the needful for the poor people of the city by providing them maximum job avenues."

Bhatia, however, sees little threat to his position from Sidhu. "No doubt Sidhu is going from school to school to draw crowds of his fans, but they are surely not his voters. No parent would vote for Sidhu on the advise of their children."

Bhatia has won the Amritsar seat six times. He disagrees his age will go against him. "No doubt I am 84, but I am still active enough to serve the masses. It is only because I had done something for the holy city of Amritsar that its people elected me six times. Otherwise, they would have rejected me all the time."


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