Tough challenge for Bansal as Chandigarh votes Thursday (Election Special)
With the spotlight in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election on two women candidates, both celebrities from Mumbai's film and glamour world, sitting Chandigarh MP Pawan Kumar Bansal faces a tough challenge in his re-election bid from here.
Chandigarh's eligible electorate of over six lakh voters will decide the fate of 17 candidates in the fray Thursday.
Pitted against Pawan Kumar Bansal, the former union railway minister and Congress leader, are three women candidates - Kirron Kher of the BJP), Gulkirat Kaur Panag (Gul Panag) of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and Jannat Jahan-ul-Haq of the Bahujan Samaj Party. Kirron Kher and Gul Panag are actresses from Mumbai's film and TV industry.
While Gul is also a former Miss India (1999), Kher is the wife of actor Anupam Kher. Both women earlier lived and studied in Chandigarh.
Of the motley crowd of 17 candidates in the fray this time, eight are independents. Of the total electorate, nearly 60 percent is young - in the age group of 18-40 years.
The election department here has made special arrangements to let voters know the length of the voters' queue at various polling stations Thursday through internet and mobile SMS.
This election is being seen as the toughest for Bansal, who won here in 1991, 1999, 2004 and 2009, as this time he is battling the Railgate taint against him.
His nephew, Vijay Singla, was arrested by the CBI in May last year while accepting a Rs.90-lakh bribe in a cash-for-job scam from a senior railway officer to get him a lucrative posting. Bansal, who was the railway minister then, was forced to resign from the union cabinet, even though he was not named in the case by the CBI.
None of the top Congress leaders - party president Sonia Gandhi, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - came to Chandigarh to campaign for Bansal this time.
Despite being labelled as 'outsiders', BJP candidate Kirron Kher and AAP's Gul Panag have campaigned hard in the last over three weeks and are posing a direct challenge to Bansal.
Kirron - whom the BJP hand-picked by-passing the claim of three senior local leaders, Chandigarh BJP president Sanjay Tandon, two-time former MP Satya Pal Jain, and former union minister Harmohan Dhawan - is mainly seeking votes in the name of BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
The AAP, which is a new entrant here, is banking on support from the youth, middle class and residents of Chandigarh's slum and rehabiliatation colonies.
In the 2009 election, Bansal 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.
(Posted on 09-04-2014)