Chandigarh/New Delhi, March 21: Raising the stakes for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, the Congress Friday announced that former chief minister Amarinder Singh will take on senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley from the April 30 contest for the seat.
Amarinder’s name was included in the fifth list of candidates announced by the Congress in New Delhi Friday. The party announced 26 candidates including 21 from West Bengal, two from Punjab, two from Bihar and one from Maharashtra.
The party fielded former West Bengal unit chief Manas Bhuiyan from Ghatal.
The party shifted Purnmasi Ram to Valmiki Nagar in Bihar and replaced him at Gopalganj with Jyoti.
A surprise inclusion was name of party leader Ambika Soni for the Anandpur Sahib seat in Punjab.
Amarinder Singh had Thursday expressed his reluctance to contest the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat but had later added that he would contest if Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked him to. After she asked him to do so, Amarinder agreed, party insiders said.
Congress sources said that Amarinder’s declaration as party candidate was a signal from the leadership that the party would not succumb to public statements about reluctance to contest.
They said the party has also indicated that it intends to to field formidable candidates against senior BJP leaders including its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
They said party vice president Rahul Gandhi had signaled that leaders with appeal and strong connect among party workers should contest.
Congress activists and supporters went into celebration mode in Amritsar after Amarinder’s name was announced for the seat.
The announcement of Amarinder’s name will make Amritsar the most watched contest in Punjab as two heavyweight leaders fight it out.
Jaitley was named by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as its candidate last week for the Amritsar seat. Sitting MP, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was overlooked by the BJP for the seat following serious differences between him and leaders of the Punjab BJP and alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal.
Sidhu had won the seat in 2004, 2007 (by-election) and 2009. In 2004, he had trounced seven-time Congress MP Raghunandan Lal Bhatia.
The Congress was finding it difficult to put up a strong leader from Amritsar against Jaitley. With Amarinder contesting now, things are unlikely to be easy for Jaitley, who is the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha and is contesting Lok Sabha poll for the first time.
Amarinder had been reluctant initially.
“Even if I contest and am elected as an MP from Amritsar, I will not be able to do justice with people there as compared to someone who would be local. Besides being an outsider, I don’t know Amritsar as much as someone from that area. I will not be able to spend required period of time there,” he had said Thursday.
Soni replaces sitting MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, a grandson of former chief minister Beant Singh. Bittu’s name had been announced earlier in the first list of Congress candidates.