BATHINDA(PUNJAB): Far away from the acrimonious exchanges between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Union Minister and key Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ally Harsimrat Kaur Badal of Shiromani Akali Dal Badal (SAD) has kept the focus of her campaign strictly local.
Her election speeches in villages across the dusty tracts of her family borough Lambi bordering Haryana and Rajasthan are marked by "gali, naali and dharamshala" (street, drain and community centre) issues and at the receiving end of her barbs is only Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
"The Chief Minister is completely cut off with the reality. He comes out only in voting season, makes wild promises and allegations and flies off never to be seen again," Harsimrat Kaur told IANS while campaigning in Bathinda Lok Sabha seat from where she is seeking re-election for a third term.
It might be Modi versus Rahul Gandhi at the national level, in Bathinda, the rivalry between the Badals and Captain Amarinder Singh is playing to the hilt despite the general street-talk about under the cover bonhomie between the two key political families of Punjab.
In three neighbourhood meetings she addressed in villages Mehana and Mithdi on Thursday afternoon, she reminded people of Captain Amarinder Singh's failed promises made in 2017 assembly elections when the Badal government was voted out. She is battling for the Lok Sabha seat on the assembly turf. "This is because these poor people in the villages are not concerned about national issues. For them daily issues like unfulfilled promises, withdrawal of all welfare schemes of the previous Badal regime are more pressing problems," she said, claiming that this has been her easiest election as villagers come and tell her that they were ashamed that she had to seek votes despite doing so much for the constituency.
For her, the 2014 contest with estranged family member Manpreet Badal was the toughest because he was a joint candidate of all the opposition parties and she just managed to scrape through. This time, her main challenger is Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, a Congress MLA from Gidderbaha falling under Faridkot Lok Sabha seat. Manpreet Badal, who has been representing Gidderbaha in the past, features prominently in the Congress posters along with the Chief Minister.
Warring has been targetting the Badals on the Bargari sacrilege and the subsequent police firing, the issues that have been haunting the previous government. Harsimrat dismissed the demonstration outside former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's residence here a day ago by Bargari protestors as orchestrated.
Amidst buzz that the Congress has not put up a strong candidate, the Union Minister finds a multi-cornered contest that also features Baljinder Kaur of Aam Admi Party (AAP) and Punjab Democratic Alliance's Sukhpal Khaira to be of advantage. "A multi-cornered contest suits me," said Harsimrat claiming that her main fight is with the Congress as AAP is no more a factor anywhere in Punjab.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in Bathinda on May 13 but Harsimrat said that it is more like a ritual to have him in her constituency otherwise her party is on the roll in Bathinda and Ferozpur from where her husband and former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal is contesting. "There is huge anti-incumbency against the Congress government in the state as the promises made in the assembly elections have not been fulfilled," said Harsimrat who addresses around 20 meetings a day driving through villages.
Talking about her own achievements, she informs villagers that Bathinda, considered to be the cancer belt of Punjab, will soon get an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) as the work on the project is going on in full swing and the hospital will provides scores of jobs to the locals apart from treatment.
A hot summer breeze is blowing through Bathinda kicking up a dust storm but the people away from her campaign trail are not sure which way the political winds are blowing. Some villagers in Chakruldu Singhwala on Bathinda-Dabwali road complained about high electricity bills they have been getting but remained unsure if any single candidate has an edge.