PEHOWA: The ruling BJP is banking on former Indian hockey captain Sandeep Singh, once popular for his drag flicks, to make inroads into the Pehowa assembly constituency, considered a pocket borough of the Indian National Lok Dal and the Congress.
A political greenhorn, Sandeep Singh is on an altogether different field with the BJP heavily relying on him to dent the citadel of INLD and Congress.
The BJP has never won the constituency.
The Congress had won the seat five times since 1967 while the INLD has won it twice.
Pehowa was the only constituency in Kurukshetra district that the BJP lost in the 2014 assembly election.
INLD candidate Jaswinder Sandhu defeated BJP's Jai Bhagwan Sharma by 9,347 votes.
Congress candidate Mandeep Singh Chatha, son of former finance minister Harmohinder Singh Chatha, finished third.
Harmohinder Chatha had represented the constituency for two consecutive terms.
The split in INLD and the death of the sitting MLA Sandhu in January this year have made things difficult for the party.
And the Congress will try to regain its lost bastion.
But the political battle appears to be a straight fight between Sandeep Singh (BJP) and Mandeep Chatha (Congress).
Sandeep Singh, 33, who was paralysed and was on wheelchair for two years after accidentally being hit by a gunshot in a train in 2006, owes it to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for entering the fray as he is "inspired" by the works done by the PM.
"I want to serve the nation. First I did it by playing for the country and now for the people of Pehowa," Sandeep says, appearing confident to take on his opponents.
"In my life, I had faced umpteen challenges. My morale is high and we will win from this seat for sure," he says.
Every morning, he says, he wants to do something good for the people and the country.
Though Sandeep Singh has star attraction, the hurdle in his path to success is BJP rebel Swami Sandeep Onkar.
Besides, the opposition terms him a "parachute candidate".
"A player is not for a single assembly seat, but of the entire country," Sandeep Singh says, adding, "The BJP is fighting for the seat like a family and in unison."
Like helping the Indian hockey team to win the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament after a gap of 13 years in 2009 under his captaincy, he wants a drug-free society and claims to work for it and for the overall development of Pehowa.
The ancient pilgrimage town Pehowa, a region known for the mythical Saraswati river, is crying for development as in absence of proper drainage, residential colonies in low-lying areas get flooded during the rainy season.
Besides, traffic congestion, stray cattle menace, shortage of parking space and poor sanitation are the key issues before the contestants.
Sandeep Singh's main opponent Mandeep Chatha is fighting to regain the ground lost in 2014 polls to INLD's Sandhu.
As far as development is concerned, Pehowa has not undergone any visible change in the last five years, Mandeep Chatha says.
"During the Congress rule, 65 new roads were constructed. The BJP failed to provide jobs to the youth according to their caliber. Pehowa is a major religious destination and people from across the country come here but not much effort has been made to develop it as a tourist destination," he adds.
Residents have many long-pending demands such as connecting the Pehowa Tirtha with railway routes, particularly with Haridwar and Patiala, beautification of the city, proper sanitation and cleanliness at shrines.
But all these demands are yet to be addressed, Mandeep Chatha says adding the government has spent crores of rupees but views and suggestions of local people were not considered, giving rise to resentment among them.
The crop insurance scheme is a failed initiative as it has given rise to several issues, he says, adding farmers have to run from pillar to post to get compensation.
"The depleting water table, a lack of canal water and no new tubewell connections are bothering farmers in Pehowa," he says.
Also in the fray are Manjit Singh of INLD, Randhir of Jannayak Janta Party, an offshoot of Chautala's INLD, Onkar Singh (BSP) and Naseeb Singh of Loktantra Suraksha Party and they can play a key role in determining the final outcome on this seat.
"The pace of development in the constituency had been slow as MLA Jaswinder Sandhu belonged to an opposition party.
He had raised local issues effectively, but due to failing health and then his demise, several works remained pending.
Pehowa is a stronghold of the INLD and it will retain the seat in the upcoming assembly election," says Manjit Singh of INLD.
"The BJP has been making bogus claims of development and no one can beat it in doing so. There has been no visible change or development on the ground," fledgeling JJP's Randhir Singh says.
BJP rebel Sandeep Onkar alleges the party has betrayed the youth by not giving a ticket to him and relying on a parachute candidate.
A total 1,72, 496 voters will decide the fate of 13 contestants form Pehowa seat on October 21.