Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) candidate in the hot seat of Amritsar in Punjab is a man of contrasts. Taranjit Singh Sandhu is a former diplomat, who has been chosen by the saffron party to contest this seat. Amritsar was once represented by cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu for the party.

A BJP ticket would have instantly worked as an advantage for Sandhu elsewhere in India but in Punjab it is a challenge to get votes on the lotus symbol. This is on account of the farmers having announced their resolve to “punish the BJP for the three controversial farm laws.”

The Narendra Modi-led government was compelled to withdraw in the face of an unprecedented peasant movement. Even otherwise there has been a continuing trust deficit between the Sikhs, a national minority community, who are in a majority in Punjab.

White Sandhu too will have advantages and disadvantages like all candidates, it's important to understand this new personality in the political domain who has shifted from the diplomatic corps.

Sandhu comes across as an affable candidate for a Lok Sabha election. Sources on the ground say that he had started working for the electoral battle much before he was declared as the candidate by the BJP.

He was the Indian High Commissioner to the neighbouring island nation of Sri Lanka and the Indian Ambassador to the United States when he retired in January this year. He was also the one who had opened the Indian Embassy in Ukraine, and has done a stint in Germany as well.

He has served in the Ministry of External Affairs at different positions. After retiring from the position of the Indian Ambassador in Washington D.C. he took the plunge into the world of politics, an altogether different realm.

He is married to Reenat Sandhu who is the present Indian Ambassador to the Netherlands and has also served in the capacity in Italy.

To begin with, he comes across as a political face of the BJP that is in stark contrast to many of its other leaders as far as their public conduct and utterances go. It is quite well known that many of the ruling party leaders have gained infamy by displaying political arrogance, shooting off their mouths and courting controversies.

Sandhu has displayed no such traits, and this has helped him come across as a ‘right man in the wrong party’ as many of the people feel in Punjab.

During his campaign, Sandhu has been on the ground talking about a development agenda. He is trying to convince the people that he will ensure development of the constituency if elected to the office of the Lok Sabha.

Just a few days ago he was talking about the commitment of Rs 833 crore by a group of Indian Americans for startups towards the socio-economic development of his constituency. This is said to be the first of its kind initiative by the Indian diaspora for any city back home.

On Tuesday, Sandhu tweeted, “Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi's main objective is to help the poor and needy. Accordingly, their resolution is welcome that within 100 days of the formation of the government, the roofs of the mud houses in the rural area of Amritsar will be fixed.”

On May 4, Sandhu posted a video of him interacting with the locals to resolve the problems on account of a local drain. He went on to state on the social media, “Engaging the community to tackle the long standing issue of the Tung Dheb drain in #Amritsar. Committed to resolving it for a cleaner, healthier city. Let’s work together towards positive change. #ViksitAmritsar.”

Sandhu is definitely a prize catch for the BJP that has been scouting for credible faces, particularly Sikh faces, in this north western state. Ever since the end of its alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal-Badal, the BJP has been trying to develop a pan-Punjab footprint.

Earlier, the BJP would contest on three parliamentary seats while the Akalis would contest the remaining 10. In case of the assembly polls, the party would contest on 23 seats that were largely urban seats having a considerable Hindu population while the Akalis would contest the remaining of the total 117 assembly constituencies.

The Akalis had walked out of the alliance over the controversial farm laws. Hence this is the first time in the last three decades that the BJP is going alone in the polls.

Incidentally, Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal and Sandhu have been schoolmates at Lawrence School Sanawar, at Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh and have shared a friendly bond.

Sandhu is the grandson of Teja Singh Samundri who was one of the founding members of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and one of the key faces of the Gurdwara reform movement of the early last century. This adds on to his ‘Panthic’ credentials as the Majha belt of Punjab of which Amritsar is the nerve centre is often referred to as the cradle of Panthic politics in the state.

“For those who ask me again and again whether I would go away from Amritsar after the elections, I must remind you that Samundri Hall is my home,” Sandhu said during a recent media interaction.

Ironically, the Akali Dal that has often claimed to be the sole representative of the Panth has fielded a Hindu face on this seat in Anil Joshi.

Sandhu has also had a run in with the farmers during his campaign. The farmers across Punjab are not letting the BJP candidates campaign.

They converge at places on knowing the arrival of the BJP candidates and show them black flags, resort to slogan shouting and pose questions to them on the party’s stand on the issues of the peasantry.

But Sandhu has avoided confrontation with the farming community reportedly saying that democracy allows everyone the freedom of expression and the same democracy that allows the farmers to protest allows the candidates to campaign. He has been talking of the BJP plans to increase the farmers’ income.

Incidentally, the farmer groups that launched the ‘Delhi Chalo’ movement in February this year and are still camping at Haryana borders have a substantial presence in Majha.

So what are his chances of winning the seat that has chosen a BJP MP thrice till now? Twice it was Navjot Singh Sidhu in 2004 and 2009 while earlier it was Daya Singh Sodhi in 1998. On all three occasions the BJP had contested in alliance with the Akalis.

“Amritsar has traditionally been a Congress stronghold. Presently it is witnessing a four cornered contest with the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), BJP and SAD candidates in the fray. The sitting Congress Lok Sabha member Gurjeet Singh Aujla is eyeing a hat trick.

“Though AAP won seven of the nine assembly seats in Amritsar in 2022 its stock has been going down with the people. Sandhu by far is the best candidate as a person but a lot depends on the reaction of the people in the countryside to the BJP.

“It also needs to be taken into consideration that the constituency has around 40 % Hindu voters. At the same time the Congress promise on implementing the Swaminathan Commission formula on minimum support price (MSP) is also a factor,” Professor Jagrup Singh who is retired from the Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar said. He keeps a keen eye on the political developments in the area.

“Sandhu has been interacting with various sections of the community including women, traders and has been trying to reason things out with the farmers as well. He cannot be ignored,” he added, and explained that being Panthic or non Panthic does not carry weight any more.