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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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I N D I A   V O T E S

Soni takes guard as Sidhu looks for hat-trick
Amritsar, May 10
It’ll be a keen contest in Amritsar this time, where cricketer-turned- politician Navjot Sidhu of the BJP is fighting it out with Congress’ Om Parkash Soni. As many as 40 per cent polling booths of the constituency, which also includes villages situated along the zero line, have been declared as “vulnerable”.

Gurdaspur Face-Off
Battle lines drawn in backward border belt
‘I am not at all an outsider’
Vinod KhannaGurdaspur, May 10
The battle lines are drawn. Three times MLA Pratap Singh Bajwa of the Congress and three times BJP MP and Bollywood star Vinod Khanna are putting in last ditch efforts to make it to the finishing line. The Tribune caught up with the two for a face-to-face interview.

Pratap Singh Bajwa ‘Creating more jobs my priority’
Q: Your contenders have been digging up your past, making unsavoury allegations about you and your family.
PSB: That is because they have nothing to offer when it comes to poll agenda. Whatever they are alleging, they need to prove it.



Poll Buzz

Pollscape

Pollspeak

Voter’s guide



Security has been beefed up in Amritsar in the wake of PM Manmohan Singh’s visit
Security has been beefed up in Amritsar in the wake of PM Manmohan Singh’s visit on Monday.
— AFP

Jalandhar
It’s all about wooing Dalits
Jalandhar, May 10
Known as the political capital of the Doaba region, the Jalandhar segment has traditionally been a Congress stronghold. However, this trend was reversed in the previous Assembly elections that witnessed the near clean sweep by the SAD-BJP alliance.

Ladakh
Cracks show in NC-Cong alliance
Leh, May 10
Cracks in the NC-Congress alliance are wide open in the Ladakh constituency with Congress cadres openly accusing the NC of backing its senior leader Gulam Hassan, who is fighting as an Independent against Congress candidate P Namgyal.

Sriperumbudur
Baalu smiling in DMK stronghold
Chennai, May 10
Union Minister for Surface Transport and Shipping TR Baalu seems to have an edge over his rival AK Murthy of the PMK in the Sriperumbudur constituency here due to the organisational strength of the ruling DMK, the minister’s popularity and his methodical campaign. The sitting MP of South Chennai is taking credit for reducing the traffic congestion in the city by constructing flyovers, subways and improving the roads. Two of the constituencies, which were in South Chennai, Alandur and Tambaram, have been attached to the Sriperumbudur constituency, which adds to the strength of the Baalu’s campaign.
AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa flashes a sword at a rally in Kanchipuram. — PTI
AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa flashes a sword at a rally in Kanchipuram

Pilibhit still under speech shock
Months after BJP nominee Varun Gandhi allegedly made the infamous hate speech, this constituency stands sharply divided and bitterly communalised. The global attention and India’s secular identity notwithstanding, for the man on the street, it is, unfortunately, a fight between “Hindu pride” and “Muslim identity.

‘Forged’ affidavit lands MP in soup
New Delhi, May 10
Acting on the direction of the Election Commission, the Delhi police has registered an FIR against a rebel MDMK Lok Sabha MP from Tamil Nadu for allegedly submitting forged affidavits before the poll panel.





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Soni takes guard as Sidhu looks for hat-trick
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, May 10
It’ll be a keen contest in Amritsar this time, where cricketer-turned- politician Navjot Sidhu of the BJP is fighting it out with Congress’ Om Parkash Soni. As many as 40 per cent polling booths of the constituency, which also includes villages situated along the zero line, have been declared as “vulnerable”.

Significantly, Amritsar is home town of the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and votes are being sought in his name. The million dollar question is whether the SAD-BJP combine’s candidate who enjoys image of “Mr, Clean” would be able to complete his hat-trick by winning the Lok Sabha election from the constituency again or the Congress candidate,

Soni, who has not lost any election so far, would be able to maintain his impeccable record. Soni has won from Amritsar (West) Assembly constituency for the thee consecutive terms, 1997, 2002 and 2007. Hw was elected as the first Mayor of Amritsar’s Municipal Corporation and had a stint as the chairman of All India Mayors Association.

The BJP candidate, on the other hand, had defeated the veteran Congress leader RL Bhatia (now Governor of Bihar) with a margin of more than one lakh votes, though he had entered the election fray with “outside tag”. However, the margin of his victory was reduced to about 81,000 when he contested the election second time in 2007 against Surinder Singla.

According to poll pundits, the number of votes polled by BSP’s candidate Lt Gen BKN Chhiber, who studied in Amritsar, would be crucial for both Sindhuand Soni. Though the BSP has fielded a heavyweight, Chhibber’s has not been managed properly. Another significant factor is that the CPI has not fielded any candidate this time though there are strong pockets of the Left votes.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal had to personally intervene to assure cooperation of SAD’s rank and file because the relations between the coalition partners were spoiled during panchayat and municipal corporation elections. In a strategic move, Bikram Singh Majithia, a former public relations minister was made the in charge of Sidhu’s election campaign. However, the close confidants of Sidhu are of the view that much would depend upon the sincerity of the Akali votes this time. After the withdrawal of nomination papers as many as 14 candidates have been left in the fray. The district election office had received nomination papers from 21 candidates out of which 5 were rejected for various anomalies, while 2 withdrew from the contest. The other candidates in the fray are Anil Singh of Revolutinary Socialist Party, Surinder singh, democratic Congress party, Harmeet Singh of Lok Janshakti Party , Maj G. S Gill of Rashtriya Raksha Dal , Jaswant Singh Randhawa of Bhartiya Gaon Taj Dal , while Sham Lal , Kanwaljit Singh, Gokul Chand, Naresh Singh Bhadoria, Bal Krishan and Lovinder Kumar are Independents.

As per the Amritsar district elector data there are 15,17,434 voters, which includes 7,24,398 women. Out of the 11 Assembly segments, 6 fall in the rural category. Going by the statistics rural voters would play a major role in deciding the fate of contesting candidates. The rural Assembly segments are Ajnala, Rajasansi, Majitha, Jandiala (SC), Attari (SC) and Baba Bakala, while four constituencies namely Amritsar north, Amritsar West (SC), Amritsar central, Amritsar East and Amritsar South fall in the urban belt.

The delimitation of Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency changed the geographical boundaries of the segment that led to transferring of certain rural segments from the newly carved out Khadur Sahib, and Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituencies.

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Gurdaspur Face-Off
Battle lines drawn in backward border belt
‘I am not at all an outsider’
Chitleen K Sethi
Tribune News Service

Gurdaspur, May 10
The battle lines are drawn. Three times MLA Pratap Singh Bajwa of the Congress and three times BJP MP and Bollywood star Vinod Khanna are putting in last ditch efforts to make it to the finishing line. The Tribune caught up with the two for a face-to-face interview.

Q: Having been the sitting MP for a decade you are now facing allegations that you have remained inaccessible.

VK: I am not needed to be here all the time. Day-to-day issues are handled by my MLAs. I have echoed my people’s needs in the parliament, written letters, met ministers and ensured thrust on development. I have done my work ith sincerity.

Q: The Congress candidate has been saying that you are an outsider, a Bombaywallah

VK: When I was offered a ticket to contest the poll in 1998, I had the option to choose any constituency in Maharashtra. But I asked for Punjab because I am a Punjabi. I might not live here but I wanted to work for my people. I did not enter politics to make money but to serve my people. I am no outsider.

Q: You have worked towards improving connectivity by building roads and bridges here. What are your other achievements?

VK: I got an airport for Pathankot, an institute of hotel management and several other projects. In 2003, we got the Amritsar-Pathankot four-laning project approved but it has been delayed because the UPA did not want it to materialise.

Q: What are your future plans?

VK: Setting up industries here. Also, I’ll push for a “backward” status to Gurdaspur so that industrialists get tax exemptions to set up base here.

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‘Creating more jobs my priority’

Q: Your contenders have been digging up your past, making unsavoury allegations about you and your family.

PSB: That is because they have nothing to offer when it comes to poll agenda. Whatever they are alleging, they need to prove it. I too can rake up Vinod Khanna’s past and bring out ‘dirty details’ of his ashram days. But I don’t want to get into personal attacks. I want to talk about real issues. A politician’s image is decided by the public not allegations.

Q: What are these issues?

PSB: Gurdaspur’s development is the main issue. Khanna has been MP for 10 years but has done nothing. For how long will he keep claiming credit for the bridges built years ago? Where happened to the promise of making Gurdapur California and Pathankot Paris? This area has remained backward because of sheer lack of leadership. The Dhar block has drinking water shortage, Batala and Pathankot’s industry is in doldrums. There is no employment and to top it, there’s a rampant problem of drug adiction.

Q: What are you offering to the electorate?

PSB: A 500-acre industrial focal point at Ranipur, a super thermal plant for Shahpur kandi, a medical college for Pathankot, a large rail coach unit or defence related industry for Batala, extension of rail connectivity beyond Batala to Beas and modernisation of the existing foundry industries.

Q: You must have seen Khanna’s films as a youth. How do you feel fighting him in elections?

PSB: I like some of his films. The best was ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’ in which he is a dacoit. I have single-handedly taken on the popular actor and a sitting MP supported by a government in power. I am sure of defeating him.

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Jalandhar
It’s all about wooing Dalits
Amarjit Thind
Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, May 10
Known as the political capital of the Doaba region, the Jalandhar segment has traditionally been a Congress stronghold.

However, this trend was reversed in the previous Assembly elections that witnessed the near clean sweep by the SAD-BJP alliance. The alliance won nine of the 10 seats, out of which the BJP bagged three seats.

The constituency, which has a reserved status this time, will witness a direct fight between the Mohinder Singh Kaypee of the Congress and folk singer Hans Raj Hans of the SAD. Surjit Singh is the BSP choice for the seat.

A perusal of the electoral history of the constituency reveals that Swaran Singh of the Congress, who also remained India’s Foreign Minister, won the seat from 1952 to 1971. From 1977 onwards, the SAD won the seat two times. Former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral wrested it in 1989 and 1998. The Akalis supported him on both occasions.

In 1977, Iqbal Singh Dhillon of the SAD won the seat from Swaran Singh of the Congress. In 1980 and 1985, the winner was Maj Gen R S. Sparrow (retd) of the Congress. In 1992, Congressman Yash defeated Yugal Mahajan of the BJP with a huge difference. In this election, the Bipin Kumar of the BSP polled over 45, 000 votes. In the 1993 byelection, necessitated following the death of the sitting Congress MP, Umrao Singh of the Congress won.

After 1977, the SAD opened its account yet again when its candidate Darbara Singh won the seat. He defeated Umrao Singh of the Congress. In the 1999 elections, Balbir Singh of the Congress defeated Prabhjot Kaur, wife of Darbara Singh.

In 2004, Rana Gurjit Singh of the Congress defeated Naresh Gujral. In this elections, Devi Dass Nahar of the BSP polled over 70, 000 votes.

Post delimitation, Kapurthala and Sultanpur Lodhi Assembly constituencies are now part of the new Khadoor Sahib parliamentary constituency. Sultanpur Lodhi is a traditional Akali stronghold and its loss will reflect on the poll fortunes of the SAD candidate. The delimitation also means that the constituency now comprises areas within the district. Nurmahal now ceases to be a constituency while Shahkot is the new Assembly segment in place of Lohian. This means that of out of the 10 constituencies earlier, there are only nine this time. Jalandhar West, Adampur, Phillaur and Kartarpur are reserved constituencies, while the others include Nakodar, Shahkot, Jalandhar Cantonment, Jalandhar Central and Jalandhar North.

The electoral outcome from this constituency will largely depend on the sizeable SC voters that account for over 40 percent of the population. Traditionally, they have been voting for the Congress and the rationale of the SAD behind fielding Hans from this seat is an attempt to capture the Valmiki vote that has never gone in their kitty. The Akalis are also depending on the star power of the Hans, the Raj Gayak.

The urban areas are a cause of major concern for the SAD since the intense infighting among the BJP has meant that their leaders and cadres are not working to mobilise voters in their areas. On the other hand, Kaypee comes from a political family that has been serving the masses for decades. He also has the added advantage to be a former minister and the PPCC chief.

Whatever may be the outcome, the Dalits will have a major say in the victory of the wining candidate.

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Ladakh
Cracks show in NC-Cong alliance
Kumar Rakesh
Tribune News Service

Leh, May 10
Cracks in the NC-Congress alliance are wide open in the Ladakh constituency with Congress cadres openly accusing the NC of backing its senior leader Gulam Hassan, who is fighting as an Independent against Congress candidate P Namgyal.

Namgyal, who was a minister in the Rajiv Gandhi-led government and is a three-time MP, told The Tribune that NC leaders were “clandestinely” working for Hassan despite their public support for him. A wary Namgyal had been camping in Kargil for the past several days to maximise the Congress chances in the district and returned to Leh today only.

“The NC has to decide if they want to run the alliance in a harmonious way or not as their actions have so far only created suspicions in our mind,” he added.

The mood among Congress leaders, including Cabinet Minister Nawang Zora, is that of anger and frustration as they believe that the presence of Hassan is the most formidable obstacle in the way to victory for Namgyal.

Hassan, who is also a former MP, is the NC’s most influential leader in the Muslim-majority Kargil and the flaccid approach of party’s state leadership to his rebellion has only added to the Congress anger. The NC has refrained from taking any tough action against Hassan who is projecting himself as his party’s choice.

What is working for Hassan is the traditional rivalry between the NC and the Congress in Ladakh, which comprises Leh and Kargil districts, and both parties had run a bitter campaign against each other in the recent Assembly elections. Both parties though later joined hands to form the government but their workers have apparently not reconciled their differences.

Congress leaders seem to be sure of getting a major chunk of votes from the Buddhist-majority Leh district, as they had left their main rival - the Ladakh Union Territory Front - far behind in the recent Assembly elections, but fear that any polarisation of votes in Muslim-majority Kargil in favour of Hassan may spoil their chances. The support of Islamia School, Kargil’s most influential religious body, to Hassan has heightened their concerns.

The candidature of Asgar Ali Karbalie, an influential Kargil leader who has backed Congress in the past, is a part of Congress strategy to stop polarisation of votes in that district, party sources say.

Buddhists and Muslims in Ladakh are known for voting for candidates hailing from their religion irrespective of their party affiliations, especially in parliamentary elections when Leh and Kargil districts compete to send their resident to New Delhi.

LUTF patron Thupstan Chawang, who is Ladakh’s sitting MP but is not contesting this time, is banking upon tactical divide of votes to help his candidate Thinless Angmo, a woman lawyer, sail through. The NC had supported the LUTF in the Assembly elections and Congress leaders allege that leaders of both the parties are still hand in glove against their candidate in Ladakh.

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Sriperumbudur
Baalu smiling in DMK stronghold
N Ravikumar
Tribune News Service

Chennai, May 10
Union Minister for Surface Transport and Shipping TR Baalu seems to have an edge over his rival AK Murthy of the PMK in the Sriperumbudur constituency here due to the organisational strength of the ruling DMK, the minister’s popularity and his methodical campaign.

The sitting MP of South Chennai is taking credit for reducing the traffic congestion in the city by constructing flyovers, subways and improving the roads.

Two of the constituencies, which were in South Chennai, Alandur and Tambaram, have been attached to the Sriperumbudur constituency, which adds to the strength of the Baalu’s campaign.

Although PMK candidate AK Murthy is popular as he is a former Union Minister, his party does not have a strong base in three of the Assembly segments, which are situated in Chennai. In comparison, the DMK’s organisational strength in the area is better than even the AIADMK and the minister’s campaign reflects his vast experience and organisational capabilities.

Citing his good work as an MP of South Chennai, Baalu has been promising to improve road facilities in industrial towns of Ambattur and Sriperumbudur. While the PMK is accusing the ruling DMK of thwarting efforts to convert Ambattur, a Vanniyar-dominant area, into a corporation, Baalu is promising to turn the constituency like South Chennai.

Although Sriperumbudur is an industrial hub, the local population, who lives in villages around the town, has not benefited due to lack of technical and educational qualifications. While most of the agricultural land is lost, due to rapid urbanisation, families involved in agriculture have not found an alternate occupation.

Most of the lakes in the area had dried up due to real estate business, setting up of factories and colleges with large campuses, hitting the local people, who are undergoing the pangs of transition.

The PMK candidate is popular in the nearby Chengalpattu, where he has done good work as an MP. His party was forced to choose Sriperumbudur as Chengalpattu, which is now called Kanchipuram, has become a reserved constituency. Murthy’s is yet to utilise the strong base of the MDMK in Alandur and the strength of communist parties in Ambattur.

Murthy is working hard and travelling to the nook and corner of the constituency. But, Baalu’s campaign is more methodical and organised. He has combined old methods like street plays and cultural programmes along with modern techniques using cellphones and Internet. With a few days to go for the elections, Baalu, who is banking on performance, seems to have an edge over his PMK rival.

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Pilibhit still under speech shock
Ajay Banerjee writes from Pilihibit

Months after BJP nominee Varun Gandhi allegedly made the infamous hate speech, this constituency stands sharply divided and bitterly communalised. The global attention and India’s secular identity notwithstanding, for the man on the street, it is, unfortunately, a fight between “Hindu pride” and “Muslim identity.

Varun, the man, who started it all, has shifted focus and lays down his future path as any politician would, “Pilihibit will be a model district of the country” he promises the electorate. “Sampuran Vikas hoga” (all round development will be carried out), further assures the poster boy of the BJP.

The electoral fight has all the ingredients of a potboiler. The poll talk of all parties and candidates starts and ends with one name - Varun Gandhi. The speeches of all his rivals are laced with how he is dividing the country, while blaming RSS and the BJP’s hindutva agenda.

The Congress has fielded the estranged maternal uncle of Varun, VM Singh, who is the richest candidate in the country after having declared assets worth Rs 631 crore. On the Samajwadi Party’s “cycle” is Haji Riaz Ahmed. At his public meetings, he makes a outrageous claim and tells his audience “this is a conspiracy between mama-bhanja”. The CD of hate speeches being telecast on TV channels was the handiwork of the “mama” to ensure that Varun is elected by enticing the Hindus, he alleges. Ahmed is targeting the 3.50 lakh strong Muslim vote bank in this electorate ith a population of 13.5 lakh.

VM Singh, who was once close to Maneka Gandhi, his cousin sister, also lambasts Varun. “He is inulging in dirty games. This RSS and Advani brand of communal politics just cannot be allowed to be launched from this area,” he says, while talking to the Tribune. He claimed that the people are fed up with the mother-son duo. Maneka has been MP for more than two decades from here, and just look at the lack of development here , he says.

Meanwhile, Varun Gandhi keeps the media at an arms length. He is also constantly hounded by the camera of the election commission. Each move, each word is filmed. This correspondent followed Varun at couple of his meetings in Puranpur block of the district. The crowds mill around just to see him. Young girls, women, boys on motorcycles, rickshaw-pullers, the elderly, just wait to catch a glimpse of Sanjay Gandhi’s son.

For Varun, the task of making it is a model district is huge to achieve. The place is only connected with a meter gauge railway line via Bareilly to Lucknow.

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‘Forged’ affidavit lands MP in soup

New Delhi, May 10
Acting on the direction of the Election Commission, the Delhi police has registered an FIR against a rebel MDMK Lok Sabha MP from Tamil Nadu for allegedly submitting forged affidavits before the poll panel.

A case of forgery has been registered against N Gingee Ramachandran, who represents Vandavasi parliamentary constituency, for submitting affidavits of some 60 party members of the MDMK-led by Vaiko in a dispute before the EC, official sources said.

Sources said the affidavit was filed by Ramachandran in 2007 to prove that he has been elected as the leader of the party instead of Vaiko following a dispute. — PTI

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Poll Buzz

Pappu campaign

NEW DELHI: Lakhs spent in “Pappu campaign” by election authorities seems to have gone in waste as only 52 per cent of 1.1 crore electorate in seven seats exercised their franchise in the recently held Lok Sabha elections in Delhi. Buoyed by the success of “pappu campaign” in November Assembly elections, the Election Commission had launched the massive campaign again to woo the voters, especially the youngsters, to come out and cast their vote. — PTI

Security up

CHENNAI: More than 15,000 security men, including those from central paramilitary forces, will maintain vigil in the city on May 13 during the fifth and final phase of the elections, a top police official said on Sunday. City Police Commissioner K Radhakrishnan said all efforts would be in place to ensure peaceful polling on May 13. — PTI

Help desk

PUDUCHERRY: A “help desk” has been installed on the premises of the collectorate at Saram near here by the office of the district election officer-cum-returning officer to help voters get information on electoral rolls and other details. The desk will function till May 12 and provide information to voters regarding serial number of their electoral rolls, polling station, assembly constituency and other particulars. Puducherry goes to the polls on May 13. — PTI

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Pollscape

Faux pas

Every true Bengali loves to talk of Nobel-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore. And so did Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, except that she went wrong on a fact - to the delight of the communists. Speaking during a TV interview, Banerjee reportedly said Tagore had offered a glass of juice to Mahatma Gandhi to help him break a fast that he had undertaken to stop communal riots in Kolkata after India’s partition in 1947. But fact is that Tagore died in 1941 - six years before partition. No sooner had Banerjee made the faux pas than CPM leaders made sure it did not escape public notice, especially in poll season. — IANS

Fake mark

Indelible ink on the index finger bestows a sense of empowerment, many say. So not wanting to be left out, some Delhi youngsters who couldn’t cast their votes decided to put black marks on their fingers anyway! Sharmishtha Ghosh, a Delhi university student, for instance, was one of three friends who “faked” the ink mark - with a black sketch pen - as they wanted to flaunt their finger like the real voter. “I am an outstation student and have my name on the electoral list back home in Kolkata. Since my exams are on, I couldn’t go back to vote,” Ghosh said. “But when I saw the rest of my Delhi friends showing off their inked fingers, I felt really left out,” Ghosh said. “So they just put a tiny mark on my index finger - making me feel “part” of the group,” she said. — IANS

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Pollspeak

While former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had fixed sterilisation targets for government officials, Mayawati has moved one step ahead and fixed donation targets for her party MLAs, MPs, DMs and SPs

— Former BJP leader Kalyan Singh

Whereas the Congress talks of poverty, farmer and unemployment, the BJP diverts the nation’s attention towards terrorism, which is its own creation

— AICC general secy Rahul Gandhi

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Voter’s guide

I have lost my old EPIC card. How can I get a new one?

You can deposit a copy of the FIR lodged at the police station. You will get a new EPIC card after deposit of Rs 25. The dates for issuing the cards are published in leading newspapers

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