It couldn’t have gotten bigger than this. For the first time in Punjab’s political history, two stalwarts of two mainline political parties are headed for a face-off in the February 4 assembly elections. Five-time Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is facing perhaps the toughest political challenge of his seven-decade-long career as Punjab Congress President and former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh takes him on from the Lambi assembly constituency in Muktsar district of southwest Punjab.
Add to this the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the newest challenger to the Congress and the Akali Dal-BJP combine in Punjab, which has fielded Delhi lawmaker Jarnail Singh from this seat. Jarnail, a former journalist, came into limelight in 2009 when he threw a shoe at then Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in Delhi, upset over the long delay in justice for victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in the national capital and elsewhere following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
“All eyes are on what happens in Lambi. It is the most interesting contest ever for this seat and even in Punjab. No two bigger leaders have come face-to-face like this before. It is the mother of all battles,” Sarabjit Singh, a farmer from the constituency, told IANS.
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For Badal, 89, Lambi has been his traditional seat since 1997. In the 2012 assembly elections, he was re-elected by a margin of 24,739 votes against his Congress opponent, which was seen as a relatively small margin for an incumbent Chief Minister.
Amarinder Singh, who turns 75 next month, has taken the risk of contesting from this seat even though he is also in the fray from his traditional home seat of Patiala-Urban and looks confident about taking on Badal.
“I will thrash him here. I have come here (to contest) as I want to teach him a lesson for ruining Punjab,” said an aggressive Amarinder, who has been indulging in no-holds-barred talk in recent days.
AAP candidate Jarnail Singh is focusing more on personal contact and small gatherings during his campaign.
“I am getting a very good response from the people. They are fed up with the Akali Dal leadership because of their excesses, and the Congress. Our victory is definite,” a confident Jarnail said.
The high-profile contest has forced Badal to spend more time in Lambi this time to ensure that his hold on the seat remains intact.
“I will win very comfortably. They (Amarinder and Jarnail) can try their luck here but they will not achieve anything. This is not a personal but a political fight,” said Badal, who is more restrained in his comments about his political opponents.
In the 2014 parliamentary polls, the Akali Dal, of which Badal is the patron, maintained a lead of 34,219 votes in Lambi. Badal’s daughter-in-law Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who is the Union Minister for Food Processing, had contested the Bathinda Lok Sabha seat, of which Lambi is a part. The Chief Minister’s estranged nephew, former Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, lost the Lok Sabha election by less than 20,000 votes.
The Lambi seat had seen 87.23 per cent polling in 2012. It had over 140,000 voters then. The number of voters this time is nearly 156,000.a