Chandigarh: In a desperate bid to shed the ‘outsider’ label given by the opposition, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, who is the BJP’s candidate for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, has posted a series of tweets, trying his best to establish his connections to the holy city.
Amritsar has usually been intolerant of ‘outsiders’ and locals have always had it easy.
In a series of tweets posted on 23 April, Puri said, “Do I look like an outsider to Amritsar? Nonetheless, my family background should help clear any doubts. My maternal grandfather (Pitaji) was at Jallianwala Bagh on the Baisakhi Day in April 1919 protesting the Rowlatt Act.
“Pitaji miraculously escaped the carnage & used education as a tool of empowerment across Punjab. My father, carrying just the shirt on his back, was on the last train from Lahore to Amritsar to escape the ravages of partition,” wrote Puri, the Delhi-born 1974 batch IFS officer.
Stating that his family found a “safe haven” in Amritsar, Puri tweeted: “No proud Sikh, no Guru ka Banda, least of all me, needs a certificate from anyone who claims to be an ‘insider’ in Guru ki Nagri.”
The minister tweeted that focus needed to be on who could deliver the promise of transforming Amritsar into a “global city buzzing with tourists, entrepreneurs, professionals & students”.
However, it will take more than just tweets to counter the ‘insider’ versus ‘outsider’ narrative in Amritsar.
Easy for locals
City-born Raghunandan Lal Bhatia had won the Lok Sabha seat in the 1972 Amritsar bypoll after his brother Durgadas, who was the sitting Congress MP, died. Bhatia then got re-elected five times from Amritsar — 1980, 1985, 1992, 1996 and 1999 — and lost in 1977, 1989 and 1998 elections.
In 1977, Bhatia lost to Dr Baldev Parkash, a doctor from Amritsar’s medical college, who headed the Jan Sangh in Punjab. In 1989, Kirpal Singh, a former chairman of the Amritsar municipal body and an Independent candidate supported by the Shiromani Akali Dal, defeated Bhatia.
In the 1998 elections, the BJP managed to break the Congress dominance over Amritsar when Dayal Singh Sodhi, the state BJP chief from the city, defeated Bhatia.
Outsiders are welcome, but conditions apply
In 2004, when cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was nominated as the BJP candidate from Amritsar, he had to swear by the Golden Temple that even though he belonged to Patiala he would never leave Amritsar and work for the people of his constituency.
He had then promised the voters that if he won the seat he would never return to Patiala and make Amritsar his hometown.
Sidhu won the Amritsar seat, defeating Congress candidate Bhatia, who was more “local” than any other candidate in Amritsar.
From 2004 till 2014 Sidhu ruled the constituency. He even introduced his doctor wife into politics from one of the assembly segments under the Amritsar constituency.
In 2014, when BJP asked Sidhu to give up his Amritsar seat for Finance Minister and ‘outsider’ Arun Jaitley, he refused to contest from any other place in Punjab, keeping his promise of not leaving Amritsar.
Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who was considered an “outsider”, contested against Jaitley and won. Amarinder was, however, a high-profile ‘outsider’, who served as the chief minister earlier too.
Back to locals
After Amarinder won the 2017 Assembly polls from Patiala seat and became the chief minister of the Congress government, his Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency fell vacant. Congress then fielded a local builder, Gurjeet Aujla, from the seat to take on BJP’s local candidate Rajinder Mohan Chhina in the bypoll. Aujla won the seat and has been again nominated by the Congress from Amritsar in this election.