The Telegraph
Saturday , March 22 , 2014
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He which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart

Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of election
Rode the Congress soldiers

New Delhi, March 21: The charge of the Light Brigade is not unfolding in Crimea but in the dusty battlefields of India.

General Rahul Gandhi is sending most commanders — willing or not — to the trenches, seeking to enable his embattled party to salvage some pride.

The fifth list of 26 candidates released by the Congress tonight included the names of Amarinder Singh and Ambika Soni from Punjab, both reluctant to fight but compelled to take the plunge by an uncompromising Rahul.

Manas Bhuniya, the Bengal Congress leader who was initially keen to sit out, has also been deployed on the frontline against actor Dev in Ghatal.

Yesterday, Rahul had fielded Ghulam Nabi Azad, another veteran accustomed to safe passage through the Rajya Sabha, in Udhampur, Jammu and Kashmir.

Amarinder, a former chief minister and an army veteran who still goes by the honorific “Captain”, has been cherry-picked to battle with BJP strategist Arun Jaitley in Amritsar.

Ambika is in the fray because Rahul wanted leaders with a high political profile to join the fight to send across a message that the Congress is not giving up and would wage trench warfare for each and every seat.

The Captain had flatly refused to fight when he was offered the Bhatinda seat a few days ago. But Amarinder’s entry has overnight made Amritsar a hot contest.

Arun, a Rajya Sabha regular who is fighting his first election after his university days although he has earned a formidable reputation as a poll manager, is now facing a baptism of fire.

Arun, 62, has been a three-term Rajya Sabha member, cabinet minister at the Centre and additional solicitor-general of India in addition to being a top lawyer and cricket administrator. But he hesitated to contest elections and had turned down the Amritsar offer in 2009.

Today, the suave lawyer was seen brandishing a ceremonial sword — a sight familiar on the campaign trail. It is not clear if baby-kissing and flesh-pressing, usually seen on the American election firmament, are round the corner.

Amarinder, hailing from the royal family of Patiala, has been a Lok Sabha member, MLA and chief minister but did not want to contest at the age of 72 and that too away from his fief. The Patiala Lok Sabha seat is being contested by the sitting MP, Amarinder’s wife Preneet Kaur.

Amarinder may have already harmed his chances by publicly admitting that he would not be able to do justice to Amritsar, which is not his home turf. He also made known his reluctance to contest, saying that he would enter the fray only if Sonia Gandhi ordered him to.

Apart from the high political profiles of Arun and Amarinder, Amritsar will also witness a clash of two wealthy public figures. While Amarinder has officially declared assets worth Rs 45 crore, Arun had estimated his assets at Rs 158 crore in 2012.

Ambika, who was given the ticket from Anandpur Sahib in place of Rahul’s aide Ravneet Singh Bittu, will also make her electoral debut at the age of 72. She has been a member of Sonia’s core team for long, having acquired fame in politics as the Youth Congress president in 1975, the turbulent days when Sanjay Gandhi was creating waves in the country.

Ambika will face Akali Dal veteran Prem Singh Chandumajra who had won twice from Patiala. Anandpur Sahib, which was with the Congress in 2009, will be a new turf for him.

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