A keen battle is on the cards as Amritsar’s first Mayor and Congress leader Om Prakash Soni takes on senior BJP leader Tarun Chugh from this assembly constituency, even as AAP is projecting itself as a viable alternative.
Elected as Amritsar’s first Mayor in 1991, Soni (59), the Congress MLA from Amritsar Central had defeated Chugh (45) in the 2012 Assembly polls. Soni was twice elected as Independent MLA from Amritsar West seat, but won the same seat for third time as a Congress nominee in 2007. He got elected from Amritsar Central in 2012, again as Congress nominee, shifting to the new constituency after Amritsar-West was declared as Reserved seat.
Notably, Soni who had contested the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat in 2009 had lost to Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was then a BJP leader and is now with the Congress.
AAP has fielded a former Congress leader Dr Ajay Gupta (56) from here. Gupta replaced Darbari Lal, whose candidature was cancelled by the AAP a few days back citing his “ill health” but the latter rejoined his old party the Congress after making brief entry in the AAP.
In all, nine candidates are in the fray from here including BSP’s Rajesh Kumar and three Independents.
Amritsar Central constituency has voter strength of nearly 1.35 lakh that includes 72,405 men and 62,519 women.
The constituency is a bustling area that comprises commercial and residential areas inside the old walled city.
While Soni alleges that the SAD-BJP government’s lopsided policies have forced the once flourishing industry to set up base elsewhere, Chugh claims that even though he lost the 2012 elections, he worked hard and brought development projects worth Rs 1010 Crore for this constituency.
The constituency is famous for Darbar Sahib (Golden temple), the holiest of the Sikh shrines, which attracts over 1.5 lakh pilgrims daily, a number which crosses 2 lakh on weekends and holidays, besides the Jallianwala Bagh.
Modelled on the main dome of Golden Temple, a mammoth 100-foot gate on the entrance to Amritsar greets those coming to the holy city.
The centre of attraction here is the Heritage Street running from Town Hall building to the Golden Temple Plaza.
The one kilometre stretch of Heritage Street begins at the old Town Hall building, which now houses the Partition Museum, goes towards Jallianwala Bagh and up to the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple).
Bright lamp posts, buildings with Rajputana and Mughal architectural domes and jharokhas, LED lights illuminate the facades. The signboards for all shops have been aesthetically unified like the markets of Jaipur.
The project, besides the ‘jaali work’ facades and the Town Hall renovation, also includes work on the complex sanitation and electrical systems. All wires, which were overhead earlier, have been channelled through an underground tunnel.
You may also like to watch this
A towering statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh is an eye catcher at Chowk Phowara, where giant LED panels show live kirtan from Darbar Sahib.
The front courtyard at the Ghanta Ghar entrance of Golden temple is now a marbled plaza adorning an impressive heritage ambience. A number of state-of-the-art facilities have been set up for tourists and pilgrims.
Outside the historic Jallianwala Bagh is a flame-shaped marble memorial made in memory of the martyrs who lost their lives in the 1919 massacre.
Most of the shopkeepers selling the famous Punjabi jutti, Amritsari ‘papad’ and other stuff are happy with the beautification work that has been done as the tourist footfall is increasing by the day.Hoteliers too are a happy lot as demand for rooms is ever-increasing.
The two main contestants–Soni and Chugh — have been actively campaigning in the constituency to woo the voters.
“I will defeat Chugh with even a bigger margin this time (as against last time’s over 12,000 votes). People have seen ten years of SAD-BJP misrule. Look at the situation which Punjab faces today due to lopsided policies of the government. There is drug problem while unemployment is on the rise.
“Small scale industry, which once used to flourish here, is in a bad shape. Amritsar used to be hub of textiles, dry fruits, and Asia’s biggest tea trade market used to be here. Small scale industry once flourished here, but now the industry is shifting from here to Kathua in J&K,” Soni told a visiting
Addressing a gathering in a locality close to his Rani Ka Bagh area, Soni talks about how “people, especially poor and small traders have been worst hit by demonetization. Prime Minister promised Ache Din, but for whom?”
“As against this, Punjab witnessed development during Capt Amarinder Singh’s time. It is matter of record that Punjab has witnessed progress whenever Congress has ruled the state,” he tells the gathering, seeking votes for the Congress to once again restore “Punjab’s old glory”.
However, BJP’s Tarun Chugh, who lost to Soni while contesting his first election in 2012, says he has worked hard and brought development works worth Rs 1,010 Crore for the assembly constituency.
As he goes door-to-door in a locality near the Lahori Gate area here, Chugh appeals voters to strengthen the hands of BJP-SAD combine.
In the leaflets, which he distributes to the voters, Chugh begins by mentioning that he lost the previous Vidhan Sabha election on March 6, 2012 from the Central constituency, but still he put in hard efforts to bring development works.
Under the Rs 1,010 Crore of development works, he claims 50-year old drinking water pipes were replaced, 76 new tube wells were installed, new sewerage pipes were laid and streets were concretized.
“On the other hand, Soni forgot his constituents after being elected and failed to undertake development,” he mentions, even as he greets young and old alike appealing them to vote for the BJP-SAD.
Speaking to PTI, Chugh also talks about the projects to beautify Golden temple, Jallianwala Bagh, Durgiana and Badrakali temples and Gobindgarh Fort.
Chugh says that he had been actively pursuing with the state and Central governments to pump in more money for the holy city for various projects.
“Tourism will be given a further boost. Most of the tourists visit Amritsar because of Golden Temple and to see the Attari-Wagah border. They used to stay here for a day or two, but we have been working to add new attractions and offering them best of facilities so that tourists extend their stay from 1-2 days to at least five days,” he said.
Patting the SAD-BJP for development, Chugh said, “During past ten years, we have brought infrastructure revolution. We have not just build up concrete, but we have given new shape to historical places. We have made Punjab electricity surplus state.
You may also like to watch this
“Industry’s revenue has gone up and farmers are getting regular power. But Congress people can’t see this development. I will request them not to look with Italian spectacles, only then they will be able to see development which has taken place,” he said.
On the drugs issue, Chugh says it is a social evil. “But our opponents have used it to defame the State”.
Chugh also attacked Navjot Singh Sidhu, dubbing him as “an expired injection. People have seen through his opportunism and bargaining for power. He has lost what he had gained politically by being in BJP, he was three-time MP and made Rajya Sabha member.
AAP’s Gupta says drug issue is the major issue and residents of the area were unhappy with both the BJP and the Congress.
“They had no choice earlier. Now, they have a viable alternative in our party. I am hopeful that people will elect me as their MLA from the constituency and give a chance to serve them,” he said.