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After Arun Jaitley, Hardeep Puri may face uphill task in Amritsar

Amritsar, May 5, 2019-

After witnessing an embarrassing defeat of its high-profile candidate Arun Jaitley in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP this time fielded Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri from Punjab’s Amritsar.

Pitted against Congress sitting MP Gurjit Aujla, diplomat-turned-politician Puri faces a tough fight in Jatt-dominated seat, say political observers.

Moreover, with the Congress at the helm in the state, Puri faces an uphill task.

Often accompanied by Punjab BJP President Shwait Malik and other party leaders, Puri, who says he has a family connect with this city, is meeting scores of morning walkers-cum-voters in city’s park and public places.

“I have been meeting party leaders and supporters and the mood is upbeat,” Puri was quoted as saying.

Amritsar-born former bureaucrat Puri, a Sikh but non-Jatt, has been making fervent appeals to the voters with saying: “If you give me the opportunity in this election, I will raise your concerns in the Union cabinet as the BJP-led NDA is going to form the government again.”

Often, Puri, an urban Sikh having roots in New Delhi, is accompanied by his wife Laxmi Puri, also a career diplomat, during the campaigning.

On the “outsider” tag, he tells the voters: “My grandfather was in Jallianwala Bagh when the British opened fire on April 13, 1919. How could you call me an outsider? Secondly, as the Urban Development Minister, I had the opportunity to understand and resolve the problems relating to Amritsar.”

On setting up the Kartarpur corridor, a long-pending demand of the Sikh community, the BJP nominee said: “I hope the Kartarpur corridor will take shape irrespective of the tension between two nations (India and Pakistan).”

The corridor will facilitate easy passage for Sikh pilgrims from this city to the historic Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan.

Kartarpur is located in Shakargarh in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab. Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, had spent more than 18 years of his life there.

In November last, Puri along with another Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal crossed over to Pakistan through Attari-Wagah border to attend the foundation stone laying ceremony of Kartarpur corridor.

Tracing his connect with Amritsar, Puri said in May last year as a Union minister he adopted Dalit-dominated Mudhal village on the outskirts of Amritsar on the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with an aim to restore the faith of the community.

“At that time I never imagined that the party would field me to serve the holy city,” Puri said.

During his campaigning that starts early morning by playing badminton with the commoners, Puri is emphasising that he would the voice of residents of the border city in Parliament and pride of turban in the world.

He is trying to woo the voters by saying he had fought for the dignity of the turban during frisking by the security at the Houston Airport in 2010.

At that time, he was posted as India’s permanent Ambassador in New York.

Refuting the allegation of fielding an outsider, Puri said his ministry for housing and urban affairs was instrumental in releasing Rs 1,500 crore for Amritsar for Smart City project and Rs 70 crore for projects under the Heritage Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY).

Puri said he would soon come out with a vision document for Amritsar.

A former Indian diplomat and 1974-batch Indian Foreign Services officer, Puri, 66, is the only turbaned Sikh minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre.

Despite a high profile contest, Amarinder Singh, who is now the Chief Minister, had won this seat by a margin of more than a lakh votes in 2014 by defeating Jaitley. At that time the SAD-BJP was in power in the state.

The Amritsar seat was represented by cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu from 2004 to 2014 when he was with the BJP. Sidhu is now a cabinet minister in the Congress government in Punjab.

Amarinder Singh, after his victory in Amritsar seat, led the Congress to a thumping victory in the Punjab elections in February 2017.

He quit as Amritsar MP before the Assembly polls and Aujla was fielded by the Congress for the by-election. He won by over 1.97 lakh votes, defeating the BJP and Aam Aadmi Party candidates in a triangular fight.

Puri is now having a direct contest with the sitting Congress MP Aujla.

The Amritsar seat has 14,68,972 voters, including 690,313 women.

It is a Sikh majority constituency with more than 60 per cent voters.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), an alliance partner with the BJP in Punjab since 2007, is an integral part of the BJP-led NDA.

Punjab’s 13 Lok Sabha seats go to the polls in a single phase on May 19.  (Agency)

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