ADVERTISEMENT

Amritsar East: Why Bikram Majithia Faces a Tough Battle Against Navjot Sidhu

The SAD hasn't contested the seat in the past. It used to fall under the BJP's quota when the alliance was there.

Updated
Amritsar East: Why Bikram Majithia Faces a Tough Battle Against Navjot Sidhu
i

"Jitni hulchul humne paanch saal mein nahi dekhi, ab agle ek mahine dekhenge (the kind of activity we haven't seen in five years, we are going to witness in the next one month," jokes Ramesh Kumar, a resident of Anand Nagar in Amritsar.

Kumar is a voter in the Amritsar East constituency that is witnessing a high profile battle after the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) decided to field Bikram Singh Majithia against sitting MLA and Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu.

Asked if he's satisfied with Sidhu's performance as an MLA, Kumar says that the leader doesn't come often but some work has been done through his representatives.

Not just Kumar, many residents of the area are deriving humour from the sudden attention that the constituency is receiving.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Assi taan VIP bann gaye (we have become VIPs)," Jaspreet Singh said over phone, taunting this reporter for remembering the area "only now."

Jaspreet says that while it won't be easy to defeat Sidhu, Majithia's entry has energised Akali cadres in the city.

MAJITHIA'S ENTRY WAS EXPECTED

If Akali cadres are to be believed, Majithia's entry in Amritsar East has been in the pipeline for some time now.

A number of Akali supporters this reporter met in December said that it is their desire to see Majithia take on Sidhu.

Majithia – also known in the SAD as Majhe Da Jarnail (the General of Majha region) – had been taking a keen interest in the party's campaign in Amritsar city for some time now.

He used to closely monitor the Lok Sabha campaigns of BJP candidates from Amritsar but after the SAD's break-up with the BJP, Majithia began assuming an even more important role in Amritsar city.

For instance, the SAD candidate from Amritsar South – Talbir Singh Gill – is a close aide of Majithia.

Gill had begun preparing for Amritsar South at least six months ago and Majithia has been featuring prominently in many of Gill's posters in the constituency.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>(SAD's Amritsar South candidate Talbir Gill is a close aide of Majithia)</p></div>

(SAD's Amritsar South candidate Talbir Gill is a close aide of Majithia)

(Photo courtesy: Talbir Gill's Facebook Page)

Amritsar is home to the Akal Takht and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. Therefore, the five Assembly constituencies in the city hold great prestige value for the SAD.

SAD HASN'T FOUGHT FROM AMRITSAR EAST, IT USED TO BE A BJP SEAT

The BJP has fielded IAS officer Jagmohan Singh Raju in Amritsar East, who recently took voluntary retirement. So far there is no buzz around him in the seat. However, this could change as the BJP does have a base and cadre strength in the seat.

Before it ceased to exist after 1972, the Amritsar East seat used to be the bastion of veteran leaders like Jan Sangh's Baldev Prakash and Congress' Gian Chand Kharbanda in the 1960s and 1970s. But locals say the seat, which came back into being in 2012, is hugely different from what existed in the 1960s and 1970s, with much of the earlier areas now falling under Amritsar Central.

Demographically, it is no longer such an overwhelmingly Hindu dominated seat like the Amritsar East that existed till the 1970s.

Due to the demography of Amritsar, the SAD had been allotting a majority of the seats in the city to its erstwhile ally, the BJP. According to the 2011 census, Hindus form 49.36 percent of Amritsar's population while Sikhs are 48 percent.

But Amritsar South is the only seat with a clear Sikh majority, while Amritsar North and Central have a clear Hindu majority. East and West are more mixed.

In the two post-delimitation elections – 2012 and 2017 – the BJP contested four seats in Amritsar with the SAD contesting only Amritsar South.

The Akali Dal, therefore, hasn't been contesting in Amritsar East and is therefore weaker here, organisationally, compared to say Amritsar South.

Sidhu has been alleged that Majithia knows he'll lose from Amritsar East and that's why he's contesting from his pocket-borough Majitha as well.

Majitha is a predominantly rural seat in the northern part of Amritsar district and Bikram Singh Majithia has won it three times in a row.

ADVERTISEMENT

This allegation has some traction among locals as well.

"Yes ideally, he should have contested only from here. It does give the impression that he isn't confident," Ramesh Kumar says.

THE AAP CHALLENGER

The Aam Aadmi Party supporters in the Amritsar East constituency say that the battle is between AAP and Sidhu and Majithia isn't in the race.

"Majithia doesn't have a good reputation here, or anywhere in the city. People want change. If they want to defeat Sidhu, they won't choose Majithia who has so many allegations against him," said an AAP worker from Tung Pai area.

In Amritsar East, AAP has fielded Jeevan Jyot Kaur, the party's district president for Amritsar (Urban). She gained the moniker of Amritsar's 'padwoman' due to her work on promoting menstrual hygiene.

AAP has been making steady gains in Amritsar city, especially among lower middle class voters. However, Amritsar East is among its tougher seats and party insiders say that Amritsar South and North are better bets for it.

One of the problems that AAP was facing in Amritsar East, before Majithia's entry, was that while it was benefitting from overall anger against the Congress government, there wasn't as much anger against Sidhu personally.

The main complaints that one would hear against Sidhu is that he "doesn't visit the constituency much" or "has a weird personality" or that he "talks too much". But, by and large, he is not seen as corrupt and has a relatively clean image.

SAD'S GAMBLE AND THE CASE AGAINST MAJITHIA

Irrespective of Majithia's prospects, the SAD has played an important gamble.

On one hand, it comes at a time when Majithia is facing serious legal challenges in a drug case.

The Supreme Court on 27 January gave Majithia protection from arrest till the 31 January.

Some argue that his decision to contest against Sidhu is to divert attention from the case against him or to appear as a martyr in case he is arrested.

However, there is another aspect to this.

Fielding Majithia against Sidhu is also Sukhbir Badal's way of claiming that the SAD is the main opposition in the state.

Currently, there are three disruptors operating against the status quo in Punjab politics – AAP, which is tapping into the anger against the Rivayti (traditional) parties; CM Charanjit Channi, who as Punjab's first Dalit chief minister has gained some support from this crucial section of Punjabi society; and the Sanyukt Samaj Morcha, that's trying to gain from the goodwill created by the farmers' movement.

In some ways, the 'Sidhu vs Majithia' battle is Badal's way of reasserting traditional politics.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

ADVERTISEMENT
Published: 
Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Quint Insider
25
100
200

or more

PREMIUM

3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Insider Benefits
ADVERTISEMENT
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!
ADVERTISEMENT
×
×