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Strong pro-Modi sentiment in Ludhiana’s urban pockets 

Ludhiana, April 30

Defender, challenger and bystander. That’s how the election contest in Punjab’s commercial capital Ludhiana is being played out.

Traditionally a Congress seat, sitting Member of Parliament Ravneet Singh Bittu does not seem as comfortably placed as in 2014 when there was a strong Modi wave in the country. His citadel — he is grandson of assassinated CM Beant Singh — is showing cracks. He is battling anti-incumbency against the two-year-old Congress government as well as infighting within the party.

“Don’t talk of local issues, such as broken roads, as these are insignificant in a Lok Sabha election. What you should think before casting your vote is whether you want cheaper fuel and  Rs 72,000 per year as promised by Congress president Rahul Gandhi under NYAY,” he tells a crowd at Humbran village on the city’s outskirts, even as a woman complains she has been denied free power by the government. 

It is such public grievances that Bittu’s rival PDA’s Simarjit Singh Bains is banking on for success. He has built a reputation for himself as one who stands by his people, mostly against the administration. 

No stage or chairs, voters gather around him in Kheri village in the Gill segment. He obliges one and all with selfies and carefully listens to grievances against a “callous” administration. He refers routine cases to his office, which functions as a sewa kendra, even as he asks his supporters to approach him with more serious matters after May 23 when the results are out. “Last time, the votes were divided. This time, these will be consolidated. Vote for a credible candidate,” he tells the gathering.

On the face of it, it appears a direct contest between the Congress and PDA with the Akali candidate a mere bystander. But enter inner pockets of the constituency and the pro-Modi sentiment is hard to miss. The SAD-BJP candidate, Maheshinder Singh, is banking on this sentiment to catch up with his rivals. 

At an election meeting on Malerkotla road, his supporters skip Panthic issues, drawing attention to the “pro-trade” PM and his decisiveness. “Only the NDA can ensure a stable government,” he says. 

The stage set, the actors are braving heat and dust to reach out to voters. As to how far they succeed will be known in three weeks from now.

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