Chandigarh, April 9:
Will the wind (Pawan) blow out others again this time? Will the new flower (Gul) blossom? Will there be a ray (Kirron) of hope? Or will the people settle for heaven (Jannat)? The names of the candidates apart, Chandigarh surely is witnessing its most interesting contest for the lone Lok Sabha seat here.
Pitted against the sitting MP and Congress leader Pawan Kumar Bansal are three women candidates – Kirron Kher (BJP), Gulkirat Kaur Panag (Gul Panag) of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Jannat Jahan-ul-Haq (Bahujan Samaj Party).
Chandigarh’s election this time may not have anything to do with Bollywood flick “Ladies vs Ricky Bahl”, in which three women are conned by the hero and they try to get back at him, but the three ladies here are definitely giving Bansal a run for his money.
This is the first time in Chandigarh that three women candidates from mainline political parties are contesting against the sitting MP. In the 2009 election, there was only one woman candidate, an independent, against Bansal.
Two of these main candidates, Kirron Kher and Gul Panag, are actresses from Mumbai’s film and TV industry. While Gul is a former Miss India (1999), Kher is the wife of actor Anupam Kher. Both women had earlier lived and studied in Chandigarh.
The Chandigarh seat has 17 candidates in the fray this time, including eight independents. Chandigarh’s over 600,000-strong electorate will decide the fate of the candidates. Out of the total electorate, nearly 60 percent is young – in the age group of 18 to 40 years.
This election is being seen as the toughest one for Bansal, who won here in 1991, 1999, 2004 and 2009, as this time he is fighting the corruption taint against him. His nephew, Vijay Singla, was arrested by the CBI May last year while accepting a Rs.90-lakh bribe in a cash-for-job scam from a senior railways officer to get him a lucrative posting. Bansal was railways minister at that time.
Bansal, who had enjoyed the image of a clean and soft-spoken leader, was forced to resign from the union government. Even though he was not named in the case by the CBI, he was questioned and later made a witness in the case.
A combative Bansal dismisses any link to the corruption scam and has, in recent days, been even offering that he “be stoned to death in Chandigarh’s Sector 17 Plaza” if he is found guilty of corruption.
Kirron and Gul had to face the `outsider’ tag when they were fielded by their respective parties. Both promised that they would shift base to Chandigarh from Mumbai.
Kirron had to face opposition from leaders and supporters of the local BJP. She was given the ticket by over-looking the claim of three senior local leaders. They were Chandigarh BJP president Sanjay Tandon, two-time former MP Satya Pal Jain and former union minister Harmohan Dhawan. Kirron is banking mainly on the Modi-factor and her own star value for a win here.
AAP, which is yet to have dedicated moorings in the constituency, is banking on support of the youth and the middle class. The AAP candidate could benefit from votes from the Sikh community and retired defence personnel.
The BSP, which had fielded Harmohan Dhawan in the 2009 election, had got over 61,000 votes last time. Dhawan was in contention for the BJP ticket this time but has been sulking ever since he was denied that. He had been elected MP from Chandigarh in 1989 but has been losing all elections, which he contested from various parties, ever since.
In the 2009 election, Bansal had defeated BJP’s Satya Pal Jain by a margin of nearly 59,000 votes. The union territory saw nearly 65 percent polling, compared to a dismal 50 percent in the 2004 election.