Chandigarh: The Congress has launched a concerted effort to convince former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh to contest the Parliamentary polls from Amritsar in Punjab.
As part of the process, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, the Congress state in-charge Asha Kumari and its Punjab unit chief Sunil Jakhar met Singh Saturday to try and persuade him to contest the Lok Sabha elections.
The former prime minister, who is now 86 years old, has refused, citing his health. But the state Congress is not giving up just yet. Elections in Punjab are scheduled to be held in the seventh phase of the polls, on 19 May, and the party feels that there is “still time” to get Singh on board.
“It will be a big gain for the party in the state if we are able to have Dr Manmohan Singh in the team,” Sunil Jakhar said. “All the MLAs of the constituencies that fall under Amritsar have given their thumbs up to Dr Manmohan Singh’s name as the most winnable candidate from the constituency.”
Singh is a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam and his term comes to an end in June.
The Amritsar Lok Sabha seat is currently held by the Congress’ Gurjit Aujla who won it in a bypoll in 2017. In the 2014 parliamentary polls, senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley had suffered a humiliating defeat in Amritsar, losing to then Congress candidate Captain Amarinder Singh. When Amarinder took over the reins of the state as chief minister in 2017, Aujla won the seat.
Manmohan’s ties to Amritsar
One of the prime reasons that the Congress is keen to pull in Singh is because of his stature coupled with his local connections.
Although his family originally hailed from Pakistan, a large part of Singh’s extended family of six sisters and three brothers are settled in Amritsar. His two half brothers, Surjit Singh and Daljit Singh, run a garment business in the city. They also own a factory that manufactures auto parts and run an air hostess training academy. One of his brothers-in-law owns a hotel in the city.
Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Daljit had joined the BJP. In a dramatic move that shocked the Congress and embarrassed Singh’s family, Daljit shared the dais with Narendra Modi and Jaitley during the last BJP rally in Punjab. His joining the BJP, however, failed to have any impact on the party’s performance in the subsequent elections.
Singh completed his schooling in Amritsar and later graduated from the local Hindu College before moving to Hoshiarpur to do his post-graduation in economics. His wife Gursharan Kaur also belongs to Amritsar.
Singh was asked to contest from Amritsar during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections as well but he had refused, saying he was not well enough. He had undergone a bypass surgery that year. In 2013, he joined the Rajya Sabha.
The former prime minister’s candidature from Amritsar will also put an end to the internal strife currently playing out in the Congress in Amritsar. A former councillor who was virtually catapulted into the Lok Sabha, 45-year-old Aujla has managed to make a place for himself. He, however, does not have the support of the majority of the MLAs of his constituency who have opposed his re-nomination.
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